“The good news is this was a good year for young people’s books. The bad news is this was a good year for young people’s books.” That’s how Katherine Paterson, chair of the judges for this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, began her remarks on Wednesday evening, to the members of the publishing industry who had gathered at Cipriani Wall Street for the 67th National Book Awards ceremony. Patterson spoke of the difficulties of choosing among the five finalists, and then announced the winners: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell for March: Book Three, published by Top Shelf. March: Book Three is the final volume in a graphic novel trilogy about the civil rights movement co-authored by Lewis, a U.S. Congressman since 1987 and a longtime civil rights leader.
His acceptance speech was an emotional one, as Lewis told the audience, “This is unreal. This is unbelievable.” With tears in his eyes he spoke of growing up poor in rural Alabama, and how in 1956, at the age of 16, he went to the library to get a library card, only to be told that the library was “for whites only, and not for coloreds.” So to go from that moment 60 years ago to “come here and receive this award... it’s too much.”
Lewis credited a “wonderful teacher” in elementary school who urged him to “read, my child, read. I tried to read everything. I love books.”
Aydin, his co-author, spoke of two “important lessons” emanating from their NBA win. One was that the story of the civil rights movement must be told, and passed on to young people. “We all must know it if we are to understand the politics of today.” And second, acknowledging that March: Book Three was the first graphic novel to ever win a National Book Award, he said, “Let the prejudice against comic books be buried once and for all!”
Click here to see our photo essay from the evening.