On Wednesday evening, Louise Glück, Phil Klay, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Jacqueline Woodson took home the National Book Award, one of America’s most prestigious literary prizes. If you were lucky enough to attend in person, or if you sat through the maddeningly jazzy live stream, you would have seen many strange things, including but not limited to: buffoonish humor from host Lemony Snicket, Ursula K. Le Guin’s stately thrashing of the profit-mad publishing industry, and a lot of white people in black ties.
The evening kicked off with the awarding of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Ursula K. Le Guin, who, from there, pretty much stole the show. Her curt acceptance speech managed to dismantle the egos of everyone from Amazon to her own publisher. “I have had a long career and a good one,” she said. “And here at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river.” She also kept calling the award a “reward,” which suggests that she knew she deserved it.
Glück took home the prize for poetry, beating out Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; Klay, a former marine, won the prize for fiction with his short story collection Redeployment; and Jacqueline Woodson won the young people’s literature award for “Brown Girl Dreaming.” The night was not without controversy, as Lemony Snicket is now facing criticism for a joke he made after Jacqueline Woodson’s acceptance speech.