That pride of identity is the overriding theme of "American Born Chinese," which tells the story of Jin Wang, a son of Chinese immigrants who moves to the suburbs from San Francisco's Chinatown and struggles to assimilate at a mostly white school. Yang interweaves Jin's journey with two other stories: the legend of the Monkey King, a Chinese folk hero; and a sitcom starring Chin-Kee, a gross Chinese stereotype with buck teeth and a habit of interchanging his r's and l's. ... It's easy to imagine, while reading "American Born Chinese," that Yang based Jin Wang's story largely on his own childhood. The author says that's true: "I was Asian and I wore glasses and I was really skinny, and I knew that I was stereotyped as a nerd. So there was part of me that kind of rebelled against that."
The National Book Awards began in 1950 when a consortium of book publishing groups sponsored the first ceremony and dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City to highlight exceptional American writing, and increase the popularity of reading in general. The awards recognize achievements in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature.
The overall winner in the fiction section was The Echo Maker by Richard Powers, with runners up:
Mark Z. Danielewski - Only Revolutions
Ken Kalfus - A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
Dana Spiotta - Eat the Document
Jess Walter - The Zero
The poetry award went to Nathaniel Mackey for Splay Anthem. Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl took the award for non-fiction. And Yang was beaten to the main prize for Young People's Literature by M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (now that's a title!). The complete shortlist is archived here.
(Thanks, Kamal, for your notes and recommendations in the e-mails you sent and if The Worst Hard Time really is better than The Grapes of Wrath, I must buy it!)