On Wednesday night, Susan Choi won the National Book Award for fiction for her novel Trust Exercise, a coming-of-age story set at a performing-arts school that follows two students who fall in love. The novel, which is Choi’s fifth, is set in the 1980s and explores ideas of consent, class, and appropriation. Judges praised it for combining “the intellectual rigor of postmodern technique with a story that is timely, mesmerizing, and in the end, unsettling.”
In March, Choi told Vulture that she began writing Trust Exercise just after the 2016 election, explaining that she was “conscious of having been so mad during so much of the writing of this book. Like really mad.” This was before the Weinstein story dropped and Me Too kicked off in earnest, and she’d tapped into the conversations about assault that were happening when Trump’s Access Hollywood comments leaked: “I wanted Trust Exercise to somehow be about how radically differently we’re seeing this stuff,” Choi explained. “But then again, how many of us are seeing it differently, and is it making a difference?”
Choi was also a Pulitzer finalist in 2004 for her novel American Woman. This year’s National Book Award for nonfiction, meanwhile, went to Sarah M. Broom for The Yellow House, a memoir about Broom’s family home and life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In Choi’s acceptance speech, she expressed gratitude for her career as an author. “Given what we’re all facing today and what many people are facing in an even more intense sense, I find it an astonishing privilege that this is what I get to do for a living,” she said.