Save the Date: The Sixty-Ninth National Book Awards

The Sixty-Ninth National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner will be held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 14, and will also be live-streamed online in its entirety.

Mark your calendars, because Awards season is nearly upon us!

The Sixty-Ninth National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner will be held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 14, and will also be live-streamed online in its entirety.

Be sure to watch our social media accounts for continued updates on this year’s Awards, and take note of the announcement dates below.

  • NBA Longlists: September 12-14
  • Literarian Award: September 18
  • DCAL Medal: September 20
  • 5 Under 35 honorees: September 24
  • NBA Finalists: October 10

NBF Heads to Los Angeles Book Rich Environments Event with Special Guest B.J. Novak

The Sixty-Ninth National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner will be held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 14, and will also be live-streamed online in its entirety.
NBF reading and book signing with author B.J. Novak. Watts Empowerment Center, Watts, California. (Photo credit:  Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

In the second year of our Book Rich Environments (BRE) initiative, the Foundation set out to beat last year’s number of 270,000 free books given to families in public housing authorities across the country. Through the incredible generosity of our publishing partners, we were able to secure 422,000 new books in 2018, which are making their way into the hands of kids at distribution events all year long!

In August, the Foundation was thrilled to partner with Watts Empowerment Center, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Public Library to bring one of many BRE events to families in L.A.’s Imperial Courts housing property. With the help of our local partners, we were able to hand out thousands of free books as part of a day-long fair that included food, entertainment, games, and more.

The BRE event also included a special guest. Writer and actor B.J. Novak, widely known for his work on the Emmy Award-winning series The Office, read from his bestselling children’s book, The Book With No Pictures, and participated in a Q&A and book signing. Copies of his book were provided free of charge to community members in attendance.

Through Book Rich Environments, we are excited to be able to provide 37,000 books across Los Angeles in 2018.

Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon

So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990s in New York. Antonio and Natasha’s world is turned upside down and their young love is put to the test when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime. Antonio fights to stay alive on the inside, while on the outside, Natasha faces choices that will change her life. Over the course of a decade, they share a desperate correspondence. Often, they have only each other to turn to as life takes them down separate paths and leaves them wondering if they will ever find their way back together. Startling, real, and filled with raw emotion, Upstate is an unforgettable coming-of-age story with a message of undeniable hope. Brilliant and profoundly felt, it is destined to speak to a new generation of readers. (St. Martin’s Press, January 2006)



Upstate masterfully takes as its subject a lost world.  It’s a toxic world where incarceration is treated as a rite of passage, one created by all of us but too often ignored by artists.  Kalisha Buckhanon captures it all perfectly.  Antonio and Natasha are indelible and individuated but also tragically emblematic.  And this is the novel’s forceful achievement: that the dirty secrets of this country’s mass incarceration program, the great civil rights malfunction of our time, can feel so lyric and personal. The committee is pleased to draw more attention to this powerful work that highlights the role fiction can play in resisting social injustice.  The book can only further our understanding of the devastating impact decades of illegitimate policing has had and should be required reading for anyone hoping to contribute to meaningful reform.”  — Sergio De La Pava


Kalisha Buckhanon is the winner of an American Library Association ALEX Award and Friends of American Writers Award and is most known for her trilogy of novels on Black youth in America: Solemn, Conception and Upstate. Her next novel, Speaking Of Summer, pulls readers into a woman’s quest for answers and justice about her twin sister’s disappearance from Harlem, leading to revelations about their past and history in a Midwest small town. She is also seen on ID Channel, BET and TV One as an expert in true crime cases involving women. Upstate‘s audiobook won an Audie Award in Literary Fiction for Buckhanon and its actors Chadwick Boseman and Heather Simms. Icon Terry McMillan gave Kalisha a Young Author Award at the National Book Club Conference for this modern classic, which remains a favorite of teachers, librarians and youth nationwide. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Hurston-Wright Foundation Legacy Award, Buckhanon’s works are seen in Fiction International, Oxford American, Black Renaissance Noire, The Root, SheKnows, Kweli, pluck!, Per Contra, Michigan Quarterly Review and more. In 2005 she was introduced in media such as The Guardian/Observer and Essence, which named her one of “Three Writers to Watch,” and featured on the cover of Mosaic Literary Magazine in 2008. She has a BA and MA in English from University of Chicago with an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School in New York City.



Understanding Mass Incarceration, A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time by James Kilgore

We all know that orange is the new black and mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow, but how much do we actually know about the structure, goals, and impact of our criminal justice system? Understanding Mass Incarceration offers the first comprehensive overview of the incarceration apparatus put in place by the world’s largest jailer: the United States. Drawing on a growing body of academic and professional work, Understanding Mass Incarceration describes in plain English the many competing theories of criminal justice—from rehabilitation to retribution, from restorative justice-to-justice reinvestment. In a lively and accessible style, author James Kilgore illuminates the difference between prisons and jails, probation and parole, laying out key concepts and policies such as the War on Drugs, broken windows policing, three-strikes sentencing, the school-to-prison pipeline, recidivism, and prison privatization. Informed by the crucial lenses of race and gender, he addresses issues typically omitted from the discussion: the rapidly increasing incarceration of women, Latinos, and transgender people; the growing imprisonment of immigrants; and the devastating impact of mass incarceration on communities. Both field guide and primer, Understanding Mass Incarceration will be an essential resource for those engaged in criminal justice activism as well as those new to the subject. (The New Press, September 2015)



“In the inaugural year of the Literature for Justice program, the committee felt it essential that readers were given an understanding of mass incarceration’s origin story—how it is that the United States came to imprison more people than any other country in the world—as well as some thoughts on how we might imagine a more humane and equitable justice system in the future. In ways powerful and accessible James Kilgore’s Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time offers just this sort of historical background while also helping us all to appreciate the vast reach and destructive impact of today’s carceral apparatus and why we should indeed try to create a different justice future. Kilgore, a formerly incarcerated educator himself, narrows the lens on the complexities of mass incarceration, offering readers history, critique, and a blueprint for moving forward which makes this book an essential selection to include in the launch of this initiative.” — Dr. Heather Ann Thompson


James Kilgore lived as a fugitive in South Africa from 1991 to 2002 under the name John Pape.  He was an educator, researcher and activist. In 2002, authorities extradited him to the United States where he served six and a half years in prison for political offenses committed in the 1970s. The idea for Freedom Never Rests emerged from his observation that as a prisoner in the U.S. he enjoyed unlimited access to free water, something which remained out of the reach for so many people in South Africa.

Kilgore currently lives in the U.S. where he a social justice activist and writes widely on issues pertaining to mass incarceration.  He is also a research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois.  He authored two other novels, We Are All Zimbabweans Now, described by the Natal Witness as one of the “three best reads” of 2009, and Prudence Couldn’t Swim (PM Press, 2012).



Inside this Place, Not of It, Narratives from Women’s Prisons, Edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman

Inside This Place, Not of It reveals some of the most egregious human rights violations within women’s prisons in the United States. Here, in their own words, thirteen narrators recount their lives leading up to incarceration and their harrowing struggle for survival once inside.

Among the narrators:

Theresa, who spent years believing her health and life were in danger, being aggressively treated with a variety of medications for a disease she never had. Only on her release did she discover that an incompetent prison medical bureaucracy had misdiagnosed her with HIV.

Anna, who repeatedly warned apathetic prison guards about a suicidal cellmate. When the woman killed herself, the guards punished Anna in an attempt to silence her and hide their own negligence.

Teri, who was sentenced to up to fifty years for aiding and abetting a robbery when she was only seventeen. A prison guard raped Teri, who was still a teenager, and the assaults continued for years with the complicity of other staff.



Inside this Place, Not of It, Narratives from Women’s Prisons, a collection of oral histories by real people about the astonishing facts of their lives and experiences being incarcerated, is a remarkable work of art. It is insistently, urgently readable. Every story is so different. Those who speak in the book range in age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, and cultural background. What they have in common is the crushing experience of prison, and also, the wisdom and insight that comes from that experience. They are all riveting storytellers: experts on their own lives, and on the cruelty of institutions. The editors, Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, both dedicated human rights lawyers, conducted all the interviews, and did all the editing, which is masterful. The speakers are all incredible raconteurs. The honesty in this book, and the wide range of voices, make it an obvious choice for a reading list aiming to highlight awareness of the experiences of those sucked into the justice system. And the ethical project of Voice of Witness—the series in which Inside this Place was published, which aims to provide oral histories by those directly impacted by human rights violations—seemed exactly in tune with our project, and the books we wanted to highlight. Mostly, this is a book you really will stay up all night reading. And you will finish not only with a better sense of who the book’s storytellers are, but with real admiration for them.” —Rachel Kushner


Robin Levi is a consultant working in the field of human rights and is the former human rights director at Justice Now. While a staff attorney at the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, she documented sexual abuse of women in U.S. state prisons.




Ayelet Waldman
 is the bestselling author of Love and Other Impossible PursuitsDaughter’s KeeperRed Hook RoadBad Mother, and, most recently Love and Treasure. She has also written for The New York TimesVogue, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.



A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca’s harrowing, brilliant memoir of his life before, during, and immediately after the years he spent in a maximum-security prison garnered tremendous critical acclaim and went on to win the prestigious 2001 International Prize. Long considered one of the best poets in America today, Baca was illiterate at the age of twenty-one and facing five to ten years behind bars for selling drugs. This raw, unflinching memoir is the remarkable tale of how he emerged after his years in the penitentiary—much of it spent in isolation—with the ability to read and a passion for writing poetry. (Grove Press, 2007)



“Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s intimate and emotionally raw memoir A Place to Stand takes us from Baca’s tumultuous childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to his nearly 7-year incarceration, and beyond it, giving the reader a 360-degree view into the ways in which mass incarceration is not only a matter of crime-and-punishment, but a cyclical and persistent issue that plagues generations of low-income communities around the country. Despite a childhood punctuated by alcoholism, abuse, prison, and illiteracy followed by an early adulthood scarred by imprisonment and isolation—Baca’s story goes beyond the systemic issues that lead many young men and women of color into the prison system in order to remind us of the challenging route to re-entry and redemption. Baca’s story also reminds us that while mass incarceration is often viewed as a black-white binary, the Latinx community makes up 20% of the U.S. incarcerated population and his is just one of many stories.  Baca’s lyrical first-person account of life before, during, and after incarceration is both tender and gut-wrenching and will leave readers questioning how we can make both imprisonment and failure upon re-entry less inevitable for all our young men and women.” — James Forman Jr.


Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in New Mexico and is of Indio-Mexican descent. He was raised first by his grandmother and later sent to an orphanage. A runaway at age 13, it was after Baca was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison that he began to turn his life around: he learned to read and write and unearthed a voracious passion for poetry. During a fateful conflict with another inmate, Jimmy was shaken by the voices of Neruda and Lorca, and made a choice that would alter his destiny.



Shahid Reads His Own Palm by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Gripping and terrifying, eloquent and heart wrenching, this debut collection delves into hellish territory: prison life. Soulful poems somberly capture time-bending experiences and the survivalist mentality needed to live a contradiction, confronting both daily torment and one’s illogical fear of freedom. (Alice James Books, June 2010)



“For most Americans, mass incarceration is an abstraction sometimes quantified on the news and in documentaries with graphs and large figures. For others, it’s an American crisis in need of committed reform efforts. For 2.2 million other Americans, mass incarceration is a catchall phrase inadequate in describing the albatross of their everyday life. As a Yale educated lawyer and criminal justice advocate, Reginald Dwayne Betts has evidenced himself as one who understands mass incarceration as a national crisis. With his award-winning debut poetry collection Shahid Reads His Own Palm, Betts also reveals himself among the too-many millions who own intimate knowledge of living behind the walls. Betts recalls the world of count times and chow times and yard calls and shanks and kites. There are poems in which he reflects on the details of the carjacking that landed him as a teen behind the walls, a moving poem in which he imagines his mother receiving the call that he’s been arrested. There’s a poem in which he recounts a fellow inmate jumping to his death from a tier, a poem in which he reminisces on feeling bereft of a woman’s touch, another where he recalls falling in love with a woman who’s visited a fellow inmate. His poems are revelatory, wise, poignant and help to re-envision mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex as what they are at the elemental level: humans failing humans.” — Mitchell S. Jackson


Reginald Dwayne Betts
is a husband and father of two sons. A poet and memoirist, he is the author of three books. The recently published Bastards of the Reagan Era, the 2010 NAACP Image Award winning memoir, A Question of Freedom, and, the poetry collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm. Dwayne is currently enrolled in the PhD in Law Program at the Yale Law School. He has earned a JD from the Yale Law School, an MFA from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, and a BA from the University of Maryland.