2019 National Book Awards Longlist for Poetry

September 2019



The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Poetry

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

As was the case in 2018, the majority of the poets on the 2019 Longlist are newcomers to the National Book Awards. The exceptions are Jericho Brown and Arthur Sze, who were Poetry Judges in 2016 and 1999, respectively, and Toi Derricotte, who received the National Book Foundation’s 2016 Literarian Award for her work with Cave Canem. Three of the poets have won Whiting Awards, and four have received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Other prizes that have recognized the ten Longlisted poets include the Lambda Literary Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the Pushcart Prize. The Longlisted poets have also received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and Poets House. All ten of the books come from independent publishers, and this is the first time publishers Wave Books and Tin House Books have been Longlisted for a National Book Award. The list features poets in all stages of their careers, including one debut.

Two titles present strong environmental themes, addressing the beauty of nature and the impending climate crisis. Sight Lines, Arthur Sze’s tenth collection, uses a broad spectrum of voices and forms to reflect on the imperiled natural world. The site-specific poems in Brian Teare’s Doomstead Days were “drafted on foot” at various natural and industrial locations, and explore what it means to be alive in the anthropocene.

Climate change is just one of the many themes Ariana Reines addresses in A Sand Book, which also considers social media, sexual trauma, Hurricane Sandy, and the various manifestations of sand in our lives. In contrast, Dan Beachy-Quick’s Variations on Dawn and Dusk is more singular in its focus, serving as an ekphrastic meditation on the interplay of light and space in untitled (dawn to dusk), Robert Irwin’s installation in Marfa, Texas.

Politics, resistance, and social justice are notably visible themes in at least four of the Longlisted collections. Build Yourself a Boat, the debut collection from Camonghne Felix, the Director of Surrogates & Strategic Communications for presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren, considers what it means to survive in today’s fractured political climate, particularly for black women. Deaf Republic, by Ilya Kaminsky, who was born in the Soviet Union, imagines a protest where a gunshot literally deafens the populace. In her sixth collection, Be Recorder, Carmen Giménez Smith sounds a call for rebellion against American complacency and compromise. And Jericho Brown’s The Tradition examines the growing presence of terror and trauma in our lives—and introduces a new poetic form called “the duplex.”

Two of the poets, Toi Derricotte and Mary Ruefle, are among those who have been delighting readers for decades. Derricotte’s “I”: New and Selected Poems includes more than 30 new poems and uses an autobiographical perspective to respond to issues of race, gender, class, and other themes. Dunce showcases Ruefle’s celebrated wit, wisdom, and uncanny awareness of the world.

Publishers submitted a total of 245 books for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. The judges for Poetry are Jos Charles, John Evans, Vievee Francis, Cathy Park Hong, and Mark Wunderlich (Chair). 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.


Dan Beachy-Quick, Variations on Dawn and Dusk
Omnidawn Publishing

Jericho Brown, The Tradition
Copper Canyon Press

Toi Derricotte, “I”: New and Selected Poems
University of Pittsburgh Press

Camonghne Felix, Build Yourself a Boat
Haymarket Books

Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic
Graywolf Press

Ariana Reines, A Sand Book
Tin House Books

Mary Ruefle, Dunce
Wave Books

Carmen Giménez Smith, Be Recorder
Graywolf Press

Arthur Sze, Sight Lines
Copper Canyon Press

Brian Teare, Doomstead Days
Nightboat Books