Winners of the 2019 National Book Awards

The National Book Award announced this week the winners of this year’s writing prizes, each chosen by more than 50 judges, the majority of whom are also National Book Award judges.

The American Library Association presented the awards to Susan Choi, Julie Sheehan and Erin Luxley (for fiction) and Annabel Lyon (for nonfiction) for their work, respectively.

Lee Smith’s novel Landmark won the literary fiction award, while poets Rita Dove and Tony Hoagland shared the award for poetry.

Two “women’s fiction” books won the fiction prize, each by a different author, again working this year with both half female and half male writers. Choi’s Trust Exercise was written by a fellow fiction writer, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, while Lee Smith’s is by a fiction writer, Roberta Smith. Lyon won with A Chrysalis; Lum Kin Chai, who previously won the poetry award for An Imperfect Exhale, was awarded the prize in poetry for Piercing Aphrodite.

Smith won for a book that most of the panelists referred to as classic, writing about “women of power and withering regret, men clinging to fantasy, and lovers forever captive to their most magnetic instincts.” They collectively referred to Olivier and Hélène, also in the “Women’s Fiction” category, as “a very, very good novel.”

The competition in the “nonfiction” category included seven titles in which more than 50 percent of the writers were women. Lyon’s book, Porcelain, focused on Laos, and Lens, by Evan Osnos, about Turkey and America, were nominated, as were Freewheel, by Lorrie Moore, and Moving Light, by Noam Chomsky.

Sarah Potempa, publisher of HarperCollins, also took home an award for another book in the “fiction” category: Federal Marriage. Potempa won as the sole publisher for best publication of the year.


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“Mustapha Matura was a Caribbean playwright, a scholarship student of English at the University of Trinidad & Tobago, a journalist, and a proud colonizer of the Caribbean,” declared Professor K.C. Williams. “He was a chieftain of his people who was true to his convictions. He was an inspiration to many.”

Prof. Williams told JISNews in an interview on Tuesday that the late Mr. Matura will be remembered as the “leader of the numerous Trinidadians who fought for Caribbean integration.”

His legacy is legacies of national resistance and creativity that have been acknowledged by the Jamaican writer Nell Anderson.

“His contribution to Caribbean unity is undeniable,” the Jamaica writer said, adding that “his work spoke of strength of character and optimism, not only at a time of need but as a people unified in their belief in one Trinidad.”

She described him as one of the “important figures who are for writing and for the continuation of Caribbean literature.”

Ms. Anderson also noted that Mr. Matura had been a teacher in her childhood, and in her adult life had developed her interest in the Caribbean and its literature.

Born into a family of merchants and farmers in eastern Trinidad in 1936, Mr. Matura attended the local Piarco High School before leaving Trinidad to go to England for a creative writing course at the University of London. He later went on to the University of the West Indies in Barbados, from which he graduated in 1969, with a bachelor’s degree in English.

At the University of the West Indies he formed a team with brother Hubert, Zeta, Donovan, Doreen and Rosabella that was known as Mature Age Tigers. Mr. Matura formed a movement calling for a more mature and responsible approach to race relations within the University of the West Indies.

He is survived by his wife Louise, four children, one sister and three grandchildren. His daughter Zeta Matura is a renowned award-winning Caribbean novelist, poet and playwright.

“He was a bridge builder between the colonizing West Indies and the region,” said Williams. “As a young man he had the feeling and will, like his grandmother, to try to move the country forward in order to take his people forward.”