2019 National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction

September 2019



The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Fiction

The National Book Foundation today announced the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction. Finalists will be revealed on October 8.

The 2019 Fiction Longlist includes only one title by a previous National Book Award honoree, Colson Whitehead, who was a Winner in the same category for his 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. One Longlisted author, Laila Lalami, was a 2018 National Book Awards judge, serving as the chair of the Fiction panel. The Longlisted authors have been recognized by numerous other awards, including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Asian American Literary Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Young Lions Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and the Whiting Award. In addition, the list includes one winner of the Pulitzer Prize and two finalists. Among these ten writers are Fulbright, Guggenheim, MacArthur, MacDowell, National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo fellows. Their writing has been published by prestigious newspapers and magazines, including The Atlantic, The Bellevue Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, ESPN The Magazine, GQ, The Guardian, Harper’s Magazine, The Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Moscow Times, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Tin House, and The Washington Post. The Longlist includes five debut books.

The Longlist includes two novels deeply rooted in the traditions of fantasy and speculative fiction. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first installment of a trilogy from Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James, incorporates African mythology in an epic story about a lost boy and a cast of fantastical characters searching for the truth. In The Need, a genre-bending thriller and the fifth book by Helen Phillips, a paleobotanist makes impossible discoveries, is confronted by a disturbing intruder in her home, and begins to question the very foundations of reality and motherhood.

In two of the books, violent crimes reveal the tensions and fissures within what once seemed like stable communities. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami is set into motion when a Moroccan immigrant is killed under suspicious circumstances, with witnesses and survivors desperate for answers. In Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth, the search for two sisters who have disappeared from a remote Russian city ignites powerful questions about class, gender, and ethnicity.

The latest novel from 2016 National Book Award Winner Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys tells the story of two teens in the Jim Crow south who struggle to preserve their idealism and their lives at the vicious Nickel Academy—which was based on the true story of a notorious reform school that terrorized and traumatized multiple generations of students.

Two debut, place-based short story collections are included in the Longlist. Set in Denver, Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina & Corina: Stories focuses on Latinas of indigenous descent and explores themes of ancestry, incarceration, illness, gentrification, and domestic violence with compassion and precision. Kimberly King Parsons’s Black Light: Stories illuminates the darker, grittier sides of the Lone Star State with stories about drugs and motels, sexuality and self-harm, and a sense of yearning the size of Texas.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong’s debut novel about a Vietnamese immigrant family, is written in an epistolary style, with a son attempting to reveal the secrets of his life to his mother, who cannot read, and challenges ideas of identity and masculinity along the way. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner addresses male privilege and the wreckage of divorce when a father struggles to resume taking responsibility for his kids.

Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise is a deceptively straight-forward novel about two students at a performing arts high school who fall in love, but leaves the reader questioning what happened to their relationship as well as the relationship between fact and fiction.

Publishers submitted a total of 397 books for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction. The judges for Fiction are Dorothy Allison, Ruth Dickey, Javier Ramirez, Danzy Senna (Chair), and Jeff VanderMeer. These distinguished judges were given the charge of selecting what they deem to be the best books of the year. Their decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential.

The National Book Award Finalists will be announced on October 8, and the Winners announced at the invitation-only National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 20 in New York City.


Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Fleishman Is in Trouble
Random House / Penguin Random House

Susan Choi, Trust Exercise
Henry Holt & Company / Macmillan Publishers

Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Sabrina & Corina: Stories
One World / Penguin Random House

Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Laila Lalami, The Other Americans
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

Kimberly King Parsons, Black Light: Stories
Vintage / Penguin Random House

Helen Phillips, The Need
Simon & Schuster

Julia Phillips, Disappearing Earth
Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House

Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Penguin Press / Penguin Random House

Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys
Doubleday / Penguin Random House