His magical realist novel on the lives of refugees "hints at possibilities for doing better," judges said. And it won him the prize, which recognizes fiction tackling today's thorniest social issues.
The award, which focuses on pressing social issues, has revealed its inaugural shortlist — including fiction by Jesmyn Ward, Zinzi Clemmons, Mohsin Hamid, Samrat Upadhyay and Lesley Nneka Arimah.
For Ward, who won the fiction prize for Sing, Unburied, Sing, it was her second National Book Award. For Bidart, whose poetry collection spanned 51 years, it was akin to a lifetime achievement honor.
The author's books are set in the poor, black Mississippi community where she grew up, a place where, she says, "the past bears very heavily on the present."
Author Jesmyn Ward invited prominent writers from her generation to pen essays for The Fire This Time. It's a nod to James Baldwin's work of a similar name, which warned of today's racial tension.
Beyoncé's latest song is for the black Southern woman, says National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, who's from Mississippi. It's a message she needed to hear.