In a star-studded National Book Awards ceremony that featured LeVar Burton (in another consummate turn as host), Oprah Winfrey (ebullient, and in person this time), and the disembodied voices of Matthew McConaughey (introducing the Translated Literature category…for some reason) and Dua Lipa, it was the nominees, and their collective moral courage, who stole the show.
At the close of the evening, after being announced as the winner of the 2023 National Book Award for Fiction, Justin Torres announced that he would be keeping his remarks short, because the finalists had collectively decided to make a statement. He then invited more than a dozen of his fellow nominees to join him on stage as gave a brief, lovely acceptance speech, before turning the microphone over to fiction finalist Aaliyah Bilal, who read the following:
On behalf of the finalists, we oppose the ongoing bombardment of Gaza and call for a humanitarian cease-fire to address the urgent humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians, particularly children. We oppose antisemitism and anti-Palestinian sentiment and Islamophobia equally, accepting the human dignity of all parties, knowing that further bloodshed does nothing to secure lasting peace in the region.
Many of the writers who were nominated prepared a statement about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Thank you for your words of peace. pic.twitter.com/fFNmZIANaP
— Literary Hub (@lithub) November 16, 2023
On one of the biggest nights of their professional lives, at a time when the hostile national climate has cowed many of their creative peers into silence, these writers chose to spotlight the plight of the people of Gaza, and to call, loudly and clearly, for a ceasefire.
When Bilal finished reading the statement, the room burst into thunderous applause.