Authors Applauded at Indies Choice Book Awards at BEA

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The 2016 annual Celebration of Bookselling and Authors Awards Luncheon, held on Thursday, May 12, at BookExpo America in Chicago, recognized the authors and illustrators whose books sit atop the list of favorites for independent booksellers.

ABA Board member Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, and the newly opened Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, Rhode Island, took to the stage on Thursday to present the 2016 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards.

Philbrick praised the impressive lineup of authors and illustrators mingling with booksellers at the lunch, all of whom either had books selected by booksellers as Indie Next List Great Reads or books selected for the Indies Introduce program.

“I’d like to invite all of the authors and illustrators here to stand and accept our gratitude and appreciation as we applaud your willingness to share your gifts and your dedication to the spirit of independent bookselling,” Philbrick said. “For the 16th time, we gather to celebrate the spirit of community and the binding force that connects authors and consumers.” 

She added, “The focus on our well-earned market share in the eyes of the industry continues to be sharpened, and today, more than ever, [indie booksellers] have a place at the table that cannot be denied.”

The winners and honored books in all categories, with the exceptions of Indie Champion and Picture Book Hall of Fame, were chosen from titles appearing on the Indie Next Lists in 2015, 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 reward books that reflect the themes, language, and universal appeal embodied by E.B. White’s children’s books.

Adult Fiction Indies Choice Awards

Lauren Groff won the award for Adult Fiction Book of the Year with her novel Fates and Furies (Riverhead). Groff, who thanked booksellers for their support in a video shot from her home in Gainesville, Florida, said she was deeply moved by the award.

“Any success Fates and Furies has had can be traced back to independent bookstores and the genius booksellers who work there,” said Groff. “So thank you from the very bottom of my heart. I love you guys so much and I’m so moved by this.”

Five Adult Fiction Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf); Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link (Random House); A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday); The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press); and Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow).

Adult Nonfiction Indies Choice Awards

Independent booksellers chose Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau) as the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year. Coates’ editor at Spiegel & Grau, Chris Jackson, appeared at the lunch to accept the award on Coates’ behalf.

According to Jackson, Coates told him that what makes getting this award from independent booksellers so special is the fact that “he was raised in a family of booksellers and publishers,” something that shaped him, and his books, throughout his life, Jackson said.

“[This background] also shaped his vision of the world that appears in this book,” said Jackson, who went on to thank booksellers for their dedicated efforts to get Between the World and Me into readers’ hands when the book came out in the summer of 2015.

As the number of police shootings of unarmed black men rose last year, bringing racial tensions in the U.S. to a boiling point, he said, Astoria Bookshop in Queens, New York, sold the book at cost because of their belief in the importance of getting the book into the hands of as many readers as possible in order to help make sense of the cultural moment.

The Adult Nonfiction Honor Books recognized at the Celebration of Bookselling were Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (Crown); Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh (University of Texas Press); H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press); Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs by Sally Mann (Little, Brown & Company); and Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (W.W. Norton & Company).

Adult Debut Indies Choice Awards

Independent booksellers named Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) the Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year.

Stradal told booksellers that when he attended BEA last year as an Indies Introduce author, he never imagined that the following year he would be standing on stage as an Indies Choice Book Award-winning author.

“I can’t think of any business that has been more important in my life than bookstores,” said Stradal, thanking indies for drawing attention to what he jokingly called an “underrated genre: the Midwestern cuisine genre.”

Stradal noted how much he had enjoyed his tour of indie bookstores, and said, “I’m looking forward to meeting more of you today and in the future. Thank you for the peanut butter bars, the root beer, and for taking a chance on a weird little book from a Midwestern writer.”

The five Adult Honor Books honored at the ceremony were Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris (W.W. Norton); Dragonfish by Vu Tran (W.W. Norton); The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (Other Press); Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Tin House Books); and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Young Adult Indies Choice Awards

Due to a tie in the voting, booksellers chose two winners this year for Young Adult Book of the Year: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Knopf Books for Young Readers) and Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen).

Savit, who is also an actor, thanked booksellers for sharing Anna and the Swallow Man with the world and for validating his work.

“This, for me, is a tremendous elevation of the idea that in a world of seven billion human beings, the things that we think and feel and believe still matter,” he said. Thanking booksellers for championing the book, he joked, “Can’t we just call independent booksellers real booksellers?”

Senior Vice President of Sales at HarperCollins Andrea Pappenheimer, who accepted the Indies Choice Award on Stevenson’s behalf, said the author was currently hard at work on her new book, Four Wizards.

In a statement read by Pappenheimer, Stevenson thanked booksellers for helping her vision grow from an online comic to a book that has connected with a wide audience: “When I started Nimona as a web comic, I never imagined it would touch so many people. I’m grateful that I had indie booksellers to put it in the hands of so many eager young readers.”

Four Young Adult Honor Books were also recognized: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray); More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen); Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray); and Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick).

Silvera was in attendance at the ceremony to thank booksellers for voting for his novel, which is about a young teen dealing with grief and his sexuality. Giving a shout-out to all of the librarians and booksellers who put his book in kids’ hands, Silvera said he appreciated the vote of confidence in his work.

In his speech, Silvera harkened back to that time earlier in his life when he worked at Barnes & Noble, stocking shelves and serving Frappuccinos and learning everything he could from other booksellers about children’s literature.

“I got all my higher education about children’s books from bookselling,” he said. “It gave me the tools I needed to write my own books.”

E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Awards

Ryan T. Higgins, author of Mother Bruce (Disney-Hyperion), took home the E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Award.

“This all seems like a dream to me. Seeing my name on this award is very surreal,” said Higgins, who went on to thank independent booksellers around the country for “hand-selling this book copy by copy.”

“Bruce was a bear that walked into my head some time ago and it’s thanks to all these people he gets to live on in bookshelves and in the minds of readers,” he said.

Five E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, Christian Robinson (Illus.) (Chronicle Books); The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (Arthur A. Levine Books); Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (Greenwillow); Toys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-Loving Rubber Ball by Emily Jenkins, Paul O. Zelinsky (Illus.) (Schwartz & Wade); and Waiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow).

Beaton, a Canadian cartoonist known for the online Hark! A Vagrant historical parody series, thanked independent booksellers for the welcome surprise of having won an award for her very first attempt at a children’s picture book.

“This is a real honor. This is my first picture book and now I’m going to be spoiled,” she said. “I owe you all a lot.”

E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Awards

Ali Benjamin was the winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award for her middle-grade novel The Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).

Benjamin, who sent booksellers a video acceptance speech from a farm “somewhere between Nova Scotia and Cuba,” told booksellers, like Charlotte the spider told Wilbur the pig in White’s classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web, “I think you are radiant. I think you are terrific.”

Booksellers are radiant and terrific, she said, because they are the ones who realize “the power of the right book for the right kid at the right time.”

“As a writer, I’m incredibly grateful for the work you have done to put my book out in the world. As a citizen of the world, I am so grateful for all that you do for readers,” Benjamin said.

The five books that won Middle Reader Honor Awards this year were The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (Aladdin); Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends); George by Alex Gino (Scholastic Press); Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books for Young Readers); and Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (Knopf Books for Young Readers).

Gino, whose middle-grade novel follows a transgender girl who dreams of playing Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, said the award particularly hits home as a transgender person. Gino thanked the indie booksellers who championed a book that 10 years ago would possibly not have been published.

“There are going to be kids whose lives are going to be different because of this book,” Gino said. “So thank you for that.”

The 2016 Picture Book Hall of Fame Inductees

Indie booksellers choose three classic picture books each year for induction into the Picture Book Hall of Fame. This year, due to a tie in the voting, four titles were chosen: Eloise by Kay Thompson, Hilary Knight (Illus.) (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers); Olivia by Ian Falconer (Atheneum Books for Young Readers); Strega Nona by Tomi dePaola (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers); and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Stieg (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers).

Indie Champion Award

Richard Russo, author of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls and, most recently, Everybody’s Fool (Knopf), was honored with the Indie Champion 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.

Russo said that while pundits and prognosticators have doubted the longevity of indie bookstores in the past, they have survived through the boom of big box stores and Internet retailers.

“Search engines haven’t replaced hand-selling. The technology itself and the terminology is revealing,” he said. “You search for something that you already know exists. You search for your car keys. Their existence isn’t in doubt, just their precise location.”

“An engine is a mechanical thing, efficient and helpful but thoughtless. Booksellers are human beings,” he said, who champion emerging writers, just as he was 30 years ago. Russo also praised booksellers for continuing “the conversation of democracy” taking place in the form of books.

“The relationship between writers, publishers, indie booksellers and readers is even more vital today than it was 30 years ago,” Russo said. “Amazon, Google, Apple — they all sell a lot of books, but they are not in the book business. They are in the business of business. They are not book people. That doesn’t mean that they are bad, but they are different from us because we are book people. It’s not just what we sell, it’s who we are.”

He continued, “When we press books on one another…we are doing what we have always done and always for the same reason. You’ll love this, we tell each other. This is worth your while; this will cheer you up; this will break your heart. This will help you understand. Here, right here, is your new best friend. This book.”

This year’s four Indie Champion Honorees were Dave Eggers; Louise Erdrich; Loren Long; Celeste Ng; and Maggie Stiefvater. Long and Stiefvater were both present at the ceremony to thank booksellers for their recognition.

Long, author and illustrator of Otis the Tractor and, most recently, Little Tree (Philomel Books), said he has been delighted throughout his career to visit the stores of independent booksellers and meet not just the bright-eyed four- and five-year-old readers who know his work, but the people who are putting his book in those readers’ hands.

Working by oneself as a full-time illustrator or author, he said, “You wonder what is going to happen to your work. Putting it in a book, your name’s on it — it never ever dies, the enthusiasm for actually finally seeing that book in a bookstore and meeting the people who are putting it on the shelves and sharing it with people.”

“Thank you guys so much for the work you do because you enhance not only the work we’re doing in publishing, but, obviously, your own communities,” said Long. “You make your own communities cool.”

Stiefvater, author of the young adult Raven Cycle series, started her speech by saying she was happy to be sitting next to her favorite bookseller, Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. In an anecdote, Stiefvater told booksellers about the time she was scheduled to do a signing on a small island off the coast of Washington. When her boat arrived, it turned out that the whole island was experiencing a blackout. Even so, the indie booksellers hosting her were game to continue with the signing: they held up their cell phones to light her way.

“I just want to thank all of you guys for always being like those little points of light in the darkness,” she said.

Following the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch, many of the authors autographed their books in the ABA Booksellers Lounge.