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Quotes From Award-Winning Books of the 21st Century

Countless awards recognize outstanding literary works on an annual basis. We’ve previously written about Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, but there are also other prestigious prizes, such as the National Book Award, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Booker Prize. If you’re looking for your next unforgettable read, checking out past winners (and nominees!) is a great place to start.

The National Book Award has been around since 1950 and honors the best works of fiction, nonfiction, translated literature, young people’s literature, and poetry published in the United States each year. A longlist of 10 books is cut down to five finalists by a panel of judges, who then select a winner. In 2024, the award expanded its eligibility to include authors who don’t hold U.S. citizenship.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Prize for Fiction highlights — you guessed it — the female author of the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom. First instituted in 1996, the award kicks off with the announcement of a longlist of nominees early in the year, typically around March, with a shortlist following soon after. Then the winner is picked by a board of “five leading women,” which could include actors, authors, journalists, etc. In 2024, the Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction was introduced as a sister prize.

The Booker Prize is conferred each year to a work of fiction written in English and published in either the U.K. or Ireland. The award is named after Booker, McConnell Ltd., which began sponsoring it upon its inauguration in 1969. The winner is chosen from a shortlist by a five-person panel made up of authors, journalists, publishers, politicians, and those who work in the entertainment industry.

Now that we’ve given you the rundown on these prizes, here are quotes from 15 previous winners that prove exactly why they deserved the merits they received.

National Book Award

Now that I knew fear, I also knew it was not permanent. As powerful as it was, its grip on me would loosen. It would pass.
Louise Erdrich, “The Round House”

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Louise Erdrich, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for 2021’s The Night Watchman, took home the 2012 National Book Award for this story that explores themes of justice and family in the wake of a brutal attack on a Native American reservation.

My wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”

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This moving 2015 nonfiction recipient is framed as a letter from the author to his then-teenage son about the realities of living as a Black man in the United States.

To David, love meant declaration. Wasn’t that the whole point? To Sarah, love meant a shared secret. Wasn’t that the whole point?
Susan Choi, “Trust Exercise”

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Following two students who fall in love at a performing arts high school in the 1980s, this mind-boggling 2019 winner challenges its readers to rethink what a novel can be with a plot that catapults through time.

Women’s Prize for Fiction

It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.
Ann Patchett, “Bel Canto”

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Beloved author Ann Patchett became the seventh winner of the Women’s Prize in 2002 for her tale of a terrorist hostage situation at a lavish birthday party in South America that slowly unfolds to reveal the beauty of humanity.

I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.
Madeline Miller, “The Song of Achilles”

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For fans of mythology, this 2012 winner is a heartrending retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Greek hero Patroclus. It delves into his romantic relationship with Achilles, the son of sea goddess Thetis and King Peleus.

Partings are strange. It seems so simple: one minute ago, four, five, he was here, at her side; now, he is gone. She was with him; she is alone. She feels exposed, chill, peeled like an onion.
Maggie O’Farrell, “Hamnet”

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The 2020 Women’s Prize recipient ensures you’ll never look at Shakespeare the same way again, painting an intimate portrait of the Bard’s wife Agnes and his family both before and after the untimely plague death of his 11-year-old son Hamnet.

Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not.
Susanna Clarke, “Piranesi”

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This mesmerizing, atmospheric 2021 winner follows the titular Piranesi as he explores his home, a giant house made of infinite room filled with innumerable statues and discovers that all may not be as it seems.

A good story doesn’t just copy life, it pushes back on it.
Barbara Kingsolver, “Demon Copperhead”

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In 2023, Barbara Kingsolver became the first person to win the Women’s Prize twice with her play on Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, set amid the drug crisis in southern Appalachia. She previously won in 2010 for The Lacuna. Demon Copperhead was also a 2023 co-recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Booker Prize

The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself.
Margaret Atwood, “The Blind Assassin”

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Multi-award-winning Margaret Atwood is perhaps best known for writing The Handmaid’s Tale, but she also won the 2000 Booker Prize for this science fiction mystery about a time-traveling man who falls in love with a woman from another world.

To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
Yann Martel, “Life of Pi”

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In addition to winning the 2002 Booker Prize, Yann Martel’s story of a young man and a Bengal tiger who bond in the aftermath of a shipwreck has since been turned into an Oscar-winning film and a Tony-winning play.

It’s all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.
Hilary Mantel, “Wolf Hall”

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Before becoming an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated miniseries, Mantel’s fictionalized biography of Thomas Cromwell — chief minister to Henry VIII — won the 2009 Booker Prize. Mantel won the prize again in 2012 for the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear.
Paul Beatty, “The Sellout”

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This darkly comedic 2016 winner satirizes racial relations in the U.S. with its depiction of an isolated young man who ultimately finds himself standing trial before the Supreme Court.

No one who has ever done anything worth doing has gone uncriticized.
George Saunders, “Lincoln in the Bardo”

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Another highly unconventional novel, Saunders’ 2017 winner is set in the bardo, the liminal state between death and rebirth, and examines President Abraham Lincoln’s grief following the death of his young son Willie.

Aging is nothing to be ashamed of / especially when the entire human race is in it together.
Bernardine Evaristo, “Girl, Woman, Other”

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Also shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize, Evaristo’s story tracing 12 characters in the U.K. over the course of several decades was a 2019 co-recipient alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, despite a 1993 rule forbidding multiple winners.

Flames are not just the end, they are also the beginning. For everything that you have destroyed can be rebuilt. From your own ashes you can grow again.
Douglas Stuart, “Shuggie Bain”

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Sure to tug at any reader’s heartstrings, this 2020 winner portrays the complicated love of a boy for his alcoholic mother in 1980s working-class Scotland.

Featured image credit: Amazon

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About the Author
Brooke Robinson
Inspiring Quotes editor, bibliophile, cinephile, and curry enthusiast based in Cleveland, Ohio.
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