Colson Whitehead, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, has been announced as the winner of the prestigious Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction given for a lifetime’s work. Aged 50 he is the youngest person to receive the award.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden is expected to make the presentation online during the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington DC in September
Hayden said: “Colson Whitehead’s work is informed by probing insights into the human condition and empathy for those who struggle with life’s sometimes harrowing vicissitude. 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.
Hayden selected Whitehead as this year’s winner based on nominations from more than 60 distinguished literary figures, including former winners of the prize, acclaimed authors and literary critics from around the world.
Founded in 2008, the annual Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction prize is one of the library’s most prestigious awards. It honours 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. The award seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that — throughout long, consistently accomplished careers — have told us something essential about the American experience’. Previous winners included Richard Ford and E Annie Proulx.
Whitehead said: “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. 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.”