Book prom was a lot of fun. At least, the Kobo–sponsored National Book Awards after-party felt eerily familiar in a particularly high school way: the inaccessible DJ spinning a lot of 90s R&B, the plates of pizza floating by, the palpable novelty of fancy dresses, tuxedos, and updo’s. It was clear that this was a special occasion for the book world.
By the time I arrived, the real work of the evening—honoring this year’s best American books—had ended and most of the literary pretense was long gone. While standing outside the opulent cavern that is Cipriani’s Wall Street, dressed in a crushed velvet jacket that I wore to my own (real) prom almost a decade ago, I saw many of the evening’s big names depart. Robert Caro made his way out, mostly undetected by the growing line of young, cold publicists and editors, booksellers and librarians, and a little bit later Junot Díaz jogged past. Though some of the honorees stayed on (I caught a glimpse of Katherine Boo as I was ushered past the now empty field of tables), there was a general changing of the guard. It had become, simply, a party.
It’s strange to think about books in the context of parties like these, though they happen all the time and are part of the large, creaking machine that churns out the rectangles of paper, glue, and ink that end up on our shelves, by our bedside tables, in our own hands. On Wednesday night, the people who operate that machine were cramming into a photo booth, clutching tiny cones of French fries, spreading the news that yes, in fact, the open bar does have champagne. There was also dancing, and (almost as sacred at literary events) people who criticize the dancing.
The attendees seemed happy about the winners—Boo for nonfiction, Louise Erdrich for fiction, David Ferry for poetry, and William Alexander for young people’s literature—but I suspect, with that much conviviality in the air, they’d be happy whoever won. On the platform of the Wall Street 2/3 train, after Cirpriani’s staff had herded most of us out, I spoke with a man who attended with Domino Martinez, the first-time author of the nonfiction-nominated memoir The Boy Kings of Texas, and he glowed with pride as he talked about his friend. There was no dampening the mood that night.
I can’t say I heard any great book recommendations or picked up on any scandalous industry gossip, but I did witness a community of people have a lot of fun. For what it’s worth, the librarians danced the hardest.