The 2017 National Book Awards finalists list has come out and among the twenty finalists is Wesleyan University Press’ Shane McCrae with his book, In the Language of My Captor, which came out this past March. In The Language of My Captor is a captivating must-read new book of poetry, breaking down socialized and elitist conceptions of grammar and calling out the United States’ racial tensions through McCrae’s own childhood as a half-white, half-black boy. Borrowing sociohistorical and cultural references to blackness and mixed race relations in U.S. history, the book forces readers into the discomfort of listening to themselves and their ancestors speak.
You can read the official press release from Wesleyan Univeristy Press after the jump:
Shane McCrae’s poetry collection “In the Language of My Captor” is a finalist for the National Book Award, in the category of poetry.
His book explores the concept of freedom through stories of captivity. Historical persona poems and a prose memoir at the center of the book address the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans. In the book’s three sequences, McCrae explores the role mass entertainment plays in oppression, he confronts the myth that freedom can be based upon the power to dominate others, and, in poems about the mixed-race child adopted by Jefferson Davis in the last year of the Civil War, he interrogates the infrequently examined connections between racism and love.
McCrae is the author of four other books of poetry, including “The Animal Too Big to Kill,” “Mule,” “Forgiveness Forgiveness,” and “Blood.” He lives in New York City.
Established in 1950, the National Book Award is an American literary prize administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. A pantheon of such writers as William Faulkner, Marianne Moore, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, John Updike, Katherine Anne Porter, Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman, Elizabeth Bishop, Saul Bellow, Donald Barthelme, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich, Thomas Pynchon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Alice Walker, Charles Johnson, E. Annie Proulx, and Colum McCann have all won the Award.
Judges for the 2017 NBA Poetry award are Nick Flynn, Jane Mead, Gregory Pardlo, Richard Siken, and Monica Youn.
Critic Valerie Duff-Strautmann described In the Language of My Captor as reminiscent of the great Romanian poet, Paul Celan. And a review in Publisher’s Weekly noted that McCrae’s “raw honesty…refuses to shy away from the effects of oppression and faces up to those not willing to acknowledge their part in a history many want to forget.”
In 2016, Peter Gizzi’s “Archeophonics” was a finalist for the same prize.