Authors Honored at 18th Annual Celebration of Bookselling at BookExpo

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Independent booksellers gathered at the “reimagined” BookExpo 2018 at New York City’s Javits Convention Center on Wednesday, May 30, for the 18th annual Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch, where American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher highlighted the continuing resurgence of independent bookstores over the past year.

“I’d like to congratulate all of you,” Teicher said. “Two-thousand seventeen and the first months of this year have been a good time in independent bookselling — and that’s to your credit — and we are delighted for your continued success.”

Board member Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, took the podium to present the 2018 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, the latter celebrating its 15th year, in honor of the authors and illustrators of notable books that reflect the spirit of independent bookstores nationwide.

“Those of us in this room are not surprised by the Associated Press story confirming what we knew months ago after experiencing the energy, the vitality, the zeal that galvanized us all in Memphis during Winter Institute,” said Fiocco. “As the AP reported, indie bookstores are continuing to grow in number and are succeeding in doing what they do best…Now more than ever, booksellers aspire to create more inclusive spaces in towns and cities all across America, and many of the award-winners we are acknowledging today have helped us do that with their words and their art. For that, we are immensely grateful.”

The winners and honor books in all categories, with the exception of Indie Champion and Picture Book Hall of Fame, were chosen from titles appearing on the Indie Next Lists in 2017, with additional titles for the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards nominated by bookseller members of the ABC Children’s Group at ABA. The E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards recognize books that reflect the themes, language, and universal appeal embodied by E.B. White’s children’s books.

Adult Fiction Indies Choice Awards

Booksellers selected Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel (Scribner) as the winner of the 2018 Indies Choice Award for Adult Fiction Book of the Year. In a video message filmed at Pass Christian Books in Pass Christian, Mississippi, Ward thanked independent booksellers for their support of her books.

“Independent booksellers have been so important to me in my career. You’ve hand-sold my work, and in this way you connected my story to readers who needed it,” she said. “I’m grateful for each and every one of you. Thank you.”

Five Adult Fiction Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: Exit West: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead Books); Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel by George Saunders (Random House); Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press); Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls (New Directions); and Pachinko: A Novel by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central Publishing).

Adult Nonfiction Indies Choice Awards

Booksellers chose Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday) as the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year. Grann took the stage to tell booksellers about his 2011 visit to a museum about the Osage Nation of northeast Oklahoma; seeing a photograph of the white settlers who murdered dozens of tribe members in order to seize their oil-rich land, he realized that most Americans had never learned about this story of racial injustice, one of the most sinister crimes in American history.

“[This] is why indie bookstores and indie booksellers are so essential to our culture,” he said. “So many of you had advocated for this story, had introduced it to readers and shared the book with readers in a way that only you can. And it’s not just this story — you’ve shared so many other neglected histories that deserve, now more than ever, to be part of our national consciousness.”

The five Adult Nonfiction Honor Books recognized at the Celebration of Bookselling Lunch were: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books); Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Harper); Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge, Becky L. Crook (Trans.) (Pantheon); Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald (Riverhead Books); and The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (Knopf).

Adult Debut Indies Choice Awards

Carmen Maria Machado, whose short story collection Her Body and Other Parties: Stories (Graywolf Press) was named the Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year, was present at the Celebration Lunch to accept her award, where she gave a shout-out to Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., which is close to her alma mater, American University; there, she was thrilled and fascinated to attend her first book event, where Lynne Truss was promoting her 2004 book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Avery).

“There are no words to fully account for the love and attention indies have lavished on Her Body and Other Parties,” Machado told booksellers. “Even after Graywolf bought it, I never thought it would sell many copies. It was a weird, sexy, gay, feminist book of short stories of unclear genre and I figured I’d be lucky to make back my advance. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. You all have been hand-selling this book like crazy and you’ve made it the success that it is.”

The five Adult Debut Honor Books honored at the ceremony were: Fen: Stories by Daisy Johnson (Graywolf Press); History of Wolves: A Novel by Emily Fridlund (Atlantic Monthly Press); The Leavers: A Novel by Lisa Ko (Algonquin Books); The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy (W.W. Norton & Company); and Stephen Florida: A Novel by Gabe Habash (Coffee House Press). Two of those authors were in attendance to personally thank booksellers for nominating their work.

Ko extended her gratitude to booksellers and the real-life immigrant families who inspired her to write The Leavers.

“I spent about seven to eight years writing this book and I felt many times that I was doing it alone,” she said, “but when I published it, I realized that you do so only with the help of a community of readers and bookstores and everybody who has believed in the book, so thank you so much for your support over the past year.”

Habash told booksellers that the nomination for Adult Debut Indies Choice in addition to Stephen Florida’s selection for the June 2017 Indie Next List were the most memorable moments of the whole publishing process and credited indie booksellers for these moments.

“I wrote a very weird book,” he said. “At one point, my character wrestles a goat on a farm for no real reason, so I didn’t know how it was going to go over exactly…You were the first people who got behind it, and that meant so much to me since this was my first book and I’d never been through the process before.”

Young Adult Indies Choice Awards

The Indies Choice Young Adult Book of the Year Award went to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray), who told booksellers via video message how “absolutely honored and humbled” she was to receive the award.

“Thank you to each and every one of you booksellers for the love and support you’ve given my book,” she said. “It honestly probably would not be where it is right now if it wasn’t for you guys cheerleading it like you did…I often say that booksellers are superheroes, and you wear that cape well.”

Five Young Adult Honor Books were also recognized: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press); Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Crown Books for Young Readers); Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books); Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Dutton Books for Young Readers); and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Simon Pulse).

“I am not entirely convinced I’m not dreaming right now,” said Stone, whose book took on the controversial topic of racial profiling by police. “This book has done way more than I ever expected it to. I hope that it continues to do things…Thank you guys for all that you do. Booksellers, y’all rock. Keep it up.”

Audiobook of the Year Awards

Booksellers chose George Saunders, whose novel Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House Audio) was read on tape by Saunders, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and a cast of 166 actors, to receive the inaugural Audiobook of the Year Award. In a video message, after thanking the production team and actors, Saunders thanked “all the booksellers in the room who supported this weird book so beautifully for the last year — you’ll never know how grateful I am.”

Five Honor Audiobooks were also recognized: American War by Omar El Akkad (Random House Audio), read by Dion Graham; The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan Audio), read by the author; Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (HarperAudio), read by the author; Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Random House Audio), read by Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee, and Danny Campbell; and The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott (Macmillan Audio), read by Euan Morton.

E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Awards

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick) took home the E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Award at Wednesday’s lunch. Though Barnett and Klassen are currently on a European book tour sponsored by their publisher, they did provide some true-to-life stand-ins: cardboard cutouts of the two in tuxedos, accompanied by a recording of their “live” acceptance speech.

After a bit of recorded banter that drew guffaws from the audience, the recording took on a sincerer tone. Said Barnett, “The kind of books we make are the kind of books that need advocates out there putting them in readers’ hands. You have been advocates for our work from the start and we are so grateful. We have careers because of you, and we love coming to this luncheon, not just because it’s great to be in a room full of people who love books, but because we get to see old friends.”

Five E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Honor Books were also recognized: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press); Alfie (The Turtle That Disappeared) by Thyra Heder (Harry N. Abrams); Come With Me by Holly M. McGhee, Pascal Lemaître (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers); Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel by Adam Rubin, Daniel Salmieri (Illus.) (Dial Books); and Escargot by Dashka Slater, Sydney Hanson (Illus.) (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers). Two of these nominated authors were also in attendance at the lunch to be recognized in person.

“I was trying to put a very long, big book into a very small package and I’m really honored that people got it,” said Alfie author Heder. “And I want to thank my editor, Erica [Finkel], who let me rewrite this book at 8:30 p.m. in a closed office right before it went to print.”

McGhee, who is also a literary agent and a former sales rep for FSG, thanked booksellers who embraced Come With Me, which illustrates how small actions can make the world a better place, namely in combating prejudice against refugees and those who are different.

“Thank you for connecting to this book, for connecting the book to its readers, and its readers to the world,” said McGhee. “And as small and insignificant as it sometimes may seem, our part matters to the world, and that is the message of the book.”

E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Awards

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends) won this year’s E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award. In a video message, Applegate explained how she wrote the book during the 2016 presidential election in reaction to the rampant vitriol and incivility she saw. After it was published, however, she was happy to see the book have real-world impact. One school, she said, was inspired to address an incident of harassment of a Muslim parent by assigning the book to the entire student body to read.

Applegate also thanked indie booksellers for putting her book in the hands of the right readers: “It’s amazing and we see it every day: indie booksellers can truly change the trajectory of a book and alter its fate…You change people’s lives, and you change the fabric of communities. You are, especially right now, beacons of hope and light, and that is an absolute fact. That is not fake news.”

The five books that won Middle Reader Honor Awards this year were: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya (Viking Books for Young Readers); The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez (Viking Books for Young Readers); One Last Word: Wisdom From the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books); Refugee by Alan Gratz (Scholastic); and The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (Knopf Books for Young Readers).

Cartaya, Grimes, and Gratz were at the celebration lunch to express their appreciation for independent booksellers’ support.

Cartaya said the first person who offered him a job in Miami was Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books, so he decided to model the bookseller in his novel after Kaplan. “Being around Mitchell, I saw the effect that a bookstore can have on a community,” he said. “Bookstores, in my mind, are the heartbeat of a community…To booksellers, thank you for the work you do that makes our communities what they are.”

In her thank-you speech, Grimes read her poem “The Sculptor,” which appears in her book, an exploration of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance: “My father says hard work is the clay dreams are molded from/Yes, molded/Dreams do not come, they are carved/Muscled into something solid, something true.”

“I’m especially grateful for the independent booksellers who have embraced this title and run with it, and I thank you so much. This a book very close to my heart,” she said.

Next, Gratz spoke about how his book, Refugee, has inspired students, parents, and teachers to make change; readers, he said, are raising money for UNICEF, volunteering with local refugee organizations, and calling their Congresspeople.

“The fact that it’s being read aloud to kids and that they are hearing it and they are actively working to change their world means a lot to me,” he said. “And that all starts with you guys because you’re the ones who put it in their hands to begin with when you hand-sell those books. Thank you. You’re making real change in the world.”

The 2018 Picture Book Hall of Fame Inductees

Indie booksellers chose three classic picture books for induction into the Picture Book Hall of Fame: Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, David Roberts (Illus.) (Harry N. Abrams); I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr., Kadir Nelson (Illus.) (Schwartz & Wade); and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Helen Oxenbury (Illus.) (Margaret K. McElderry Books). Two authors were present to thank booksellers in person.

“On behalf of all of us [authors], I want to thank you, booksellers and educators and librarians — you are the lifeblood of great children’s literature. It cannot exist without you, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” said Beaty, who went on to read a poem of gratitude that referenced previous Picture Book Hall of Fame winners, including Millions of Cats and The Little Engine That Could.

Nelson told booksellers that he was extremely grateful when he was first asked to create images “to accompany Dr. King’s flawless words,” and grateful for his work to have the blessing of the King family.

“Dr. King’s poignant and powerful words touched the hearts of millions, stirred the nation to move in the right direction. Given the current environment,” he said, “I hope that this award will continue to further Dr. King’s message of inclusion and tolerance and inspire many to carry the torch.”

Indie Champion Award

Indie Champion Award winner Jason Reynolds appeared at the lunch to receive the 2018 award, which is presented to the author or illustrator who booksellers believe has the best sense of the importance of independent bookstores to their communities at large and the strongest personal commitment to foster and support the mission and passion of independent booksellers.

Reynolds is the author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novels When I Was the Greatest and Boy in the Black Suit and co-author of the New York Times-bestselling All American Boys. As Brave as You was a Time Book of the Year, and Ghost, the premier book in his middle-grade Track series, was a National Book Award finalist. Reynolds is also a Kirkus Award winner, a Walter Dean Myers Award winner, a NAACP Image Award winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. His 2017 young adult novel, Long Way Down, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

During his term as the 2017 Indies First spokesperson (“By the way, I’m always going to be your spokesperson,” he said at the lunch, a line that drew applause from booksellers), Reynolds started his “Local Stacks” campaign, in which he tweeted an elevator pitch for each indie bookstore he visited using the dedicated hashtag #localstacks alongside #indiesfirst to inspire readers to visit their local bookstore.

“The indie bookstore, you are the brick house that can never be blown down no matter how strong the winds may get. In that house, as the great Alice Walker said, are ‘our wounds and our medicine,’” he said. “Whether you like books or not, whether you’re interested or not, independent bookstores are community spaces, are hubs for the neighborhood, are a meeting ground for people who wouldn’t normally run into each other. Imagine all the crossing that happens just between the four walls of a bookstore. Actually, it’s a really incredible thing. And, like all things, I believe we can be better.”

Reynolds recalled being hired by the owners of Karibu Books in Washington, D.C., where he was first exposed to the wide world of literature. One way for booksellers to be better, he said, is to reach out to and hire kids who may be difficult or troubled or hard to connect with “so they can one day stand up here like me, because I was that kid.”

This year’s five Indie Champion Honorees were Judy Blume, David Levithan, Celeste Ng, Jesmyn Ward, and Jacqueline Woodson. At the lunch, Levithan told booksellers that they, along with publishers and indie sales reps, continue to create positive change in the world.

“In a time where, in publishing and in society, we are learning to be very skeptical of and discouraging of people who think of themselves as forces for greatness, it’s important more than ever to embrace everybody and everything that is a force for good,” said Levithan. “When I think about independent bookstores and the elaborate apparatus behind all the different books that are in independent bookstores, I think about what a force for good we are.”

Following the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch, many of the authors, both honorees and Indie Next List authors, autographed their books in the ABA Member Lounge & Galley Room.