Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced on Monday that Colson Whitehead, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, will receive the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction during the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival.
The annual Prize for American Fiction, one of the LoC's most prestigious awards, honors an American literary writer "whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination."
Hayden selected Whitehead from a list of more than 60 nominees, including acclaimed authors and literary critics from around the world. At 50 years old, Whitehead is the youngest person ever to receive the Library’s fiction award, which is for a lifetime of work.
“Colson Whitehead’s work is informed by probing insights into the human condition and empathy for those who struggle with life’s sometimes harrowing vicissitudes,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. “In novels such as The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, he has expanded the scope of historical events, transforming them into metaphors for today’s world.”
Whitehead, born in New York City in 1969, is the author of seven novels and two works of nonfiction. In 2019, Time magazine named him “America’s storyteller.” in 2016, Whitehead also won the ALA's Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for The Underground Railroad.
"As a kid, I'd walk into great New York City libraries like the Schomburg and the Mid-Manhattan, on a field trip or for a school assignment, and feel this deep sense of awe, as if I'd stumbled into a sacred pocket in the city,” Whitehead said in a statement. “I hope that right now there's a young kid who looks like me, who sees the Library of Congress recognize Black artists and feels encouraged to pursue their own vision and find their own sacred spaces of inspiration."
On Thursday, July 16, Whitehead will join Hayden in a conversation on race in America, part of a video series called Hear You, Hear Me. The conversation will be available at 7 p.m. on the Library’s Facebook and YouTube channels, as well as on the LoC's video page. The prize ceremony will take place online during the National Book Festival, slated for September 25-27.