Robin Benway Wins 2017 National Book Award

Benway took home the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her YA novel "Far From the Tree."

Robin Benway Photo by Platzer/Twin Images

Robin Benway took home the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature on November 15 for her novel Far From the Tree (HarperCollins/HarperTeen, Oct. 2017), during a gathering of literary luminaries and stars including former President Bill Clinton and actresses Anne Hathaway and Cynthia Nixon. Benway’s novel tells the story of teenage Grace, who was adopted at birth, and who begins a search for her birth family when she puts her own daughter up for adoption. Finalists including Rita Williams-Garcia (a three-time finalist), for Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (HarperCollins/Amistad, May 2017); Ibi Zoboi for American Street (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Feb. 2017); Erika L. Sánchez for I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Knopf, Oct. 2017); and Elana K. Arnold for What Girls Are Made Of (Carolrhoda, April 2017). Zoboi and Sánchez are debut novelists. Former President Clinton presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Richard Robinson, chief executive officer of Scholastic.

National Book Award finalists at the Teen Press Conference (l. to r.) Elana K. Arnold, Rita Williams-Garcia, Erika L. Sánchez, Robin Benway, and Ibi Zoboi. Photo by Rocco Staino

The ceremony wrapped up a whirlwind few days for the finalists that included readings and signings. On November 14, they attended the annual Teen Press Conference, where 600 students from grades six through 12 gathered at New York City’s 92nd Street Y to speak with the authors and take home autographed books.

Benway with her editor, Kristen Pettit (left), and agent, Lisa Grubka. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins

Asked about inspiration by one of the teens, Benway said that she got the idea for Far From the Tree from a song lyric. While sitting in a Costco parking lot, she was listening to “Cosmic Love” by Florence + the Machine. “A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes” became the spark for her story. Sánchez told the audience that her character Julia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was a lot like her. While Julia is “funnier, smarter and meaner than me,” both she and Julia experience depression, she shared. Accepting her award during the  ceremony, Benway confessed that she delivered her book a year late. Looking at her editor, she said, “I hope this absolves me.” Benway also thanked her brother, who encouraged her at times when she doubted anyone would like her book. “What if someone does?” he asked. Benway closed by advising the audience “not to be apologetic about curiosity.”

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