Author and TV writer Charles Yu won the National Book Award for Fiction on Wednesday night with his novel “Interior Chinatown,” a satire about typecasting and racism in Hollywood.
The novel, published in January by Pantheon Books, follows an Asian film actor stuck in the background roles of “Generic Asian Man” or “Delivery Guy” with very few lines, while yearning to one day become the “Kung Fu Guy.”
In a virtually–streamed ceremony, the 2020 judging committee praised the book, which was written in the form of a screenplay, as a “wonderfully inventive work.”
“By turns hilarious and flat-out heartbreaking, Charles Yu’s ‘Interior Chinatown’ is a bright, bold, gut punch of a novel,” said the judges’ statement.
When accepting the award on camera, Yu was visibly surprised, laughing in disbelief. “I can’t feel anything in my body right now. I prepared nothing, which tells you about how realistic I thought this was,” he said, quipping that it all felt like a simulation.
“I will probably just stop talking now,” he added. “I’m going to go melt into a puddle right now.”
Yu’s previous works include the science-fiction novel “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” and two collections of short stories. He has also written for television, notably for the hit HBO show “Westworld.”
Charles Yu, author of “Interior Chinatown” Credit: Rozette Rago/The New York Times/Redux
Yu’s win was met with celebration within literary circles as well as the Asian American and Asian diaspora community, with prominent figures congratulating him on the award.
Established in 1950, the National Book Award is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States. Past recipients include William Faulkner, Alice Walker, Philip Roth and Adrienne Rich.
The other finalists for the fiction category included Rumaan Alam’s “Leave the World Behind,” Lydia Millet’s “A Children’s Bible,” Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,” and Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain.”