Cover Author Karen Tei Yamashita (Photo: Courtesy of Carleton College)

Author Karen Tei Yamashita is this year’s recipient of the National Book Award for literary achievement—the only second Asian American after Maxine Hong Kingston

The National Book Foundation, which awards the National Book Award announced that Karen Tei Yamashita will be the recipient of its National Book Award for literary achievement. Through the award’s 34-year history, Yamashita is only the second Asian American author to receive it after Maxine Hong Kingston. Yamashita was a finalist for the award in 2010.

She will receive a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters which includes a prize of US$10,000 in cash. Other previous winners include Toni Morrison, Robert Caro and Walter Mosley.

“Lifetime achievement awards have been given to writers who have had great acclaim and success, but they can also celebrate people who have done important work and have not had the same level of recognition,” says Ruth Dickey, the National Book Foundation's executive director. “[Yamashita] writes in such gorgeous and complicated ways about culture and racism and the fragility and strength of community,” she adds.

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Yamashita will be honoured at the National Book Award ceremony which is scheduled for November 17 in Manhattan. While last year’s awards were held virtually due to the pandemic, the foundation hopes to host this year in person.

Yamashita, a Japanese American writer is currently a Professor of Literature at the University of California, teaching creative writing and Asian American literature. She is well known for her books, I Hotel, Brazil-Maru and Tropic of Orange which contain elements of magic realism. Besides being an author, Yamashita is also a playwright, having written Hannah Kusoh, Noh Bozos and O-men.

With Yamashita receiving the award this year, it’s a departure from the previous winners not only because she’s one of the two Asian American authors to ever receive the award, but also because she doesn’t publish through New York publications like its previous awardees but through the Minneapolis-based independent book publisher and arts non-profit, Coffee House Press.

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