2020 National Book Awards Judges


Submissions for the 2020 National Book Awards are now closed.

2020 National Book Awards Judges

FictionNonfictionPoetryTranslated LiteratureYoung People’s Literature


Chair – Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014Best American Short Stories 2012Best Sex Writing 2012A Public SpaceMcSweeney’sTin HouseOxford AmericanAmerican Short FictionVirginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books AyitiAn Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects. (Photo credit: Reginald Cunningham)

Cristina Henríquez is the author of the novels The Book of Unknown Americans and The World in Half and of the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, The AtlanticThe Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times Magazine. (Photo credit: Michael Lionstar)

Laird Hunt is the author of seven novels, with an eighth, Zorrie, forthcoming from Bloomsbury USA in early 2021. He is the winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine, The Bridge/Il Ponte Book Award, and was a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner and the Prix Femina Étranger. A former United Nations press officer, he now lives in Providence where he teaches in Brown University’s Literary Arts Program. (Photo credit: Eva Sikelianos Hunt)

Rebecca Makkai latest novel, The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; it was the winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal, the Stonewall Book Award, and the LA Times Book Prize; and it was one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2018. Her other books are the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music for Wartime — four stories from which appeared in The Best American Short Stories. Rebecca is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University. She is Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago. (Photo credit: Susan Aurinko)

A lifelong Texan, Keaton Patterson is the lead buyer for Brazos Bookstore in Houston. He holds a MA in American Literature and lives with his wife and son in Pearland.
(Photo credit: Cassie Schulz)


James Goodman is the author of essays, short stories, book reviews, letters, and three books, Stories of ScottsboroBlackout, and But Where Is the Lamb? He is a former Guggenheim Fellow and Stories of Scottsboro was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University, Newark, where he teaches close reading, critical thinking, and creative writing in the history department and in the MFA program in creative writing. (Photo credit: Michael Lionstar)

A Guggenheim Fellow and a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Yunte Huang is the author of Charlie Chan, which won the Edgar Award and was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. His most recent book, Inseparable was also a finalist for the NBCC award and was named Best Book of the Year by the New York Times, NPR, and Newsweek. He has published articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily Beast, and others, and has been featured on NPR, CBS, C-SPAN, and others. (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

Hannah Oliver Depp is the owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth, DC and Silver Spring, MD. Loyalty serves all readers as an intersectional feminist bookstore and programming space. She holds a Masters in English from American University. Oliver Depp is a founding member of the American Booksellers Association’s Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and serves on the boards of Bookshop.org, An Open Book Foundation, and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. (Photo credit: Joanna Tillman)

Bestselling author David Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Minnesota Book Awards, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bush Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His book, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee was a 2019 Finalist for both the National Book Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal. He divides his time between his home on the Leech Lake Reservation and Los Angeles, where he is a Professor of English at the University of Southern California. (Photo credit: Nisreen Breek)

Chair – Terry Tempest Williams is the author of sixteen books, including the environmental literature classic, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place; The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, a New York Times bestseller; and her latest book, Erosion: Essays of Undoing. She is a recipient of a Lannan Literary Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship in creative nonfiction. In 2019, Terry Tempest Williams was given The Robert Kirsch Award, a lifetime achievement prize given to a writer with a substantial contribution to the American West. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is currently writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School. She divides her time between the red rock desert of Utah and Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Zoë Rodriguez)


Rigoberto González is the author of 17 books of poetry and prose. His awards include the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Lambda Literary Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and USA Rolón fellowships. He is currently director of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey. (Photo credit: Rigoberto González)

John Hennessy is the author of two poetry collections, Bridge and Tunnel and Coney Island Pilgrims, and his poems appear in The Believer, Best American Poetry, Harvard Review, The New Republic, Poetry, The Poetry Review (UK), Poetry Ireland Review, and other journals and anthologies. He is the co-translator, with Ostap Kin, of A New Orthography, selected poems by Serhiy Zhadan, forthcoming in 2020; Hennessy and Kin won the John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for Translation from Poetry magazine for work included in this book. A former Amy Clampitt Resident Fellow, Hennessy is the poetry editor of The Common and director of undergraduate creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. (Photo credit: Anton Kisselgoff)

Chair – Layli Long Soldier holds a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Bard College. Her poems have appeared in POETRY Magazine, The New York Times, The American Poet, The American Reader, The Kenyon Review Online, BOMB and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an NACF National Artist Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and was a Finalist for the National Book Award in 2017. She has also received the 2018 PEN/Jean Stein Award and the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the author of Chromosomory and WHEREAS. She resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo credit: Nancy Nichols)

A poet and multimedia artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen is the author of Ghost Of, which was selected for publication by Terrance Hayes in the Omnidawn Open Contest. In addition to winning the 92Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Contest, 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Colorado Book Award, she was also a Finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A Kundiman fellow, she currently teaching in the Randolph College Low-Residency MFA and will be an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh starting in Fall 2020. (Photo credit: Apple Chua)

Elizabeth Willis is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Alive: New and Selected Poems, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Other books include Address, recipient of the PEN New England/L.L. Winship Prize for Poetry, Meteoric FlowersTurneresque, and The Human Abstract, a National Poetry Series selection. A Guggenheim fellow in poetry, Willis currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. (Photo credit: Mary Lou Prince)


Heather Cleary is a writer and translator from the Spanish whose work has been longlisted or shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, the Best Translated Book Award, and the National Translation Award. Her work has been supported by the PEN/Heim Translation Fund, the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, and Programa Sur. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. (Photo credit: Walter-Funk)

John Darnielle is a singer, songwriter, and author from Durham, North Carolina. As leader of the Mountain Goats, he sings songs about survival strategies and pagan uprisings; as author of Master of RealityWolf in White Van, and Universal Harvester, he explores interior worlds of grief, obsession, inclusion or exclusion, and self-identification. (Photo credit: John Darnielle)

Anne Ishii is a writer, editor and translator, who for the past ten years has worked specifically to achieve visibility and recognition for art and artists that touches on issues of gender and sexuality in the Asian diaspora. In her quest to platform more and better iterations of work from the API diaspora, Anne has worked in publishing and advertising, venture consulting and content strategy, and she is currently the Executive Director of Asian Arts Initiative, a multi-disciplinary community arts center in Philadelphia that engages people of all ages and backgrounds to create and present art that addresses Asian American experience and effects positive change in a broad range of communities and in its immediate neighborhood of Chinatown North. (Photo credit: Lucas Michael)

Brad Johnson is the owner of East Bay Booksellers in Oakland, California. He has been a judge for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Firestarter Award for Fiction and the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Poetry. He has a PhD in Literature, Theology and the Arts from the University of Glasgow. (Photo credit: East Bay Booksellers)

Chair – Dinaw Mengestu is the author of three novels, all of which were named New York Times Notable Books: All Our NamesHow To Read the Air, and The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. A native of Ethiopia who came with his family to the United States at the age of two, Mengestu is also a freelance journalist who has reported about life in Darfur, northern Uganda, and eastern Congo. His articles and fiction have appeared in the New York TimesThe New YorkerHarper’sGrantaJane, and Rolling Stone. He is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow and recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction, National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award, Guardian First Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among other honors. He was also included in The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list in 2010. He is the director of the Written Arts program at Bard College. (Photo credit: Michael Lionstar)


Randy Ribay was born in the Philippines and raised in the Midwest. He’s the author of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, After the Shot Drops, and Patron Saints of Nothing, which was selected as a Finalist for the National Book Award. Randy earned his BA in English Literature from CU-Boulder and his Ed.M. in Language and Literacy from Harvard. He’s also a high school English teacher and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Photo credit: Dave Londres)

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of over thirty novels. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep. His novel Scythe was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book, and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country, and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. Neal lives in Jacksonville, Florida, but spends much of his time travelling the world speaking, and signing books for readers. (Photo credit: Gaby Gerster)

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is Associate Professor in the Literacy, Culture, and International Educational Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. A former Detroit Public Schools teacher and National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, she is an expert on diversity and representation in children’s literature, youth media, and fan culture. Her most recent book is The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games. (Photo credit: Stuart Greenberg)

Chair – Joan Trygg is general manager at Red Balloon Bookshop in Saint Paul, where she has been since 2004. She has been a bookseller for twenty-eight years. She is a creative nonfiction writer and has an MFA from Hamline University. (Photo credit: Anna Min of Min Enterprises Photography LLC)

Colleen AF Venable is the author of the National Book Award Longlisted Kiss Number 8, a graphic novel co-created with Ellen T. Crenshaw. Her other books include Mervin the Sloth is About to Do the Best Thing in The World with Ruth Chan, The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom with Lian Cho, and the Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series, illustrated by Stephanie Yue and nominated for the Eisner Awards Best Publication for Kids. (Photo credit: Amber Harrison)