National Book Awards takes stage, discusses touchy subjects

The 2018 National Book Awards Festival Mainstage Reading and Discussion will take place April 16 from 6-7:30 p.m., in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center. Authors Danez Smith, Lisa Ko and Jason Reynolds will read excerpts from their award-nominated novels, and discuss the topics addressed in each.

Their books confront the subjects of race, sexuality, adoption, life-or-death decisions and the art of letting go.

Smith will present his poetry collection, “Don’t Call Us Dead,” which opens with a harrowing sequence that imagines a utopia for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, brutality and grief are replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith then delves into desire, mortality and a diagnosis of HIV positive.

“Some of us are killed / in pieces, some of us all at once,” Smith said in his novel.

2017 Finalist in Fiction Lisa Ko will present “The Leavers,” a tale of Deming Guo, an 11-year-old whose mother Polly leaves for work and never returns home. Deming is adopted by two white college professors who rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him into their version of an “all-American boy.”  In an examination of borders and belonging, “The Leavers” tells the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken, and one woman learns to live with her past mistakes.

2016 Finalist in Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds will discuss two of his novels; the first, “Long Way Down,” follows protagonist Will, who is set to avenge the death of his older brother. Will believes the shooter is a member of a rival gang named Riggs. But in the elevator on his way down to meet Riggs, gun in hand, Will encounters family and friends who died due to gang related violence. He must make a decision of fatal consequence before the elevator reaches its final stop.

Reynolds will also discuss his novel “GHOST” that follows protagonist Castle Cranshaw (nicknamed Ghost) who learned how fast he could run the night his father was arrested. He does not take his talent seriously and gets into continuous altercations at school. One day, he comes across a track practice in the park and decides to race one of the sprinters, a decision that leads him to join Coach Brody’s elite track team, the Defenders. Coach Brody gives Ghost a future to run toward, but only if he can learn to let go of the things he’s been running from.

A book signing will follow the event and copies will be available for purchase onsite.

To register for this free literary experience, visit click ‘tickets’ from the dropdown menu.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the MFA Program in Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing sponsor the event, brought to Huntsville by The National Book Foundation and SHSU.

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