2020 National Book Awards Finalists Announced

Twenty-five Finalists to contend for National Book Awards in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature

The twenty-five Finalists for the 2020 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature (YPL) were announced with the Washington Post online. The five Finalists in each category were selected by a distinguished panel of literary experts, and were advanced from the Longlists announced in September. Between the five categories, there are two writers who have been previously honored by the National Book Awards: Lydia Millet who was Longlisted in 2016 and Charles Yu, a 2007 5 Under 35 honoree. Eight of the twenty-five Finalists are debuts.

Publishers submitted a total of 1,692 books for this year’s National Book Awards: 388 in Fiction, 609 in Nonfiction, 254 in Poetry, 130 in Translated Literature, and 311 in Young People’s Literature. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential.

The Winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 18 at the 71st National Book Awards Ceremony, which will be held exclusively online. Two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented as part of the evening’s ceremony: Walter Mosley will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by Edwidge Danticat, and Carolyn Reidy will posthumously receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Finalists for Fiction:

In Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, Brooklyn couple Amanda and Clay head out on a family vacation to Long Island, but their trip turns uneasy when the homeowners seek refuge following blackouts in New York City. As the world outside moves towards greater unrest, the group faces their perceptions about each other and the very concept of safety. Civilization’s future is at stake in A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, who holds a master’s degree in environmental policy. The cast of young characters in Millet’s novel easily fend for themselves as their parents remain indifferent to the devastation of the world around them in allegorical tale that defies rationalizations about climate change. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw draws us into the multifaceted lives of Black women across several generations as they engage in self-discovery and seduction. In Philyaw’s first work of fiction, her characters push the boundaries of thought around morality, Christianity, and their community’s expectations. Set in Glasgow in the 1980s, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is an epic portrayal of a working-class family haunted by alcoholism. Each of their experiences are portrayed with great care through the eyes of lonely Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, who finds himself at the margins of his own family. Everyone embodies a role in Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu and protagonist Willis Wu strives to land the best one available to an Asian-American man: Kung Fu Guy. Yu’s novel takes the concept of allegory and uses the familiar landscape of Hollywood tropes to create a nuanced, heartfelt, and stylistically unique portrait of Asian-American identity.

Finalists for Nonfiction:

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is a keenly reported work in which former DACA recipient Cornejo Villavicencio profiles undocumented people across the country, focusing on their inner lives and value beyond their status and contributions to the economy. The results of decades of research, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne is a fully realized portrait of Malcolm X. Pulitzer Prize winner Les Payne set out to interview anyone who had ever known Malcolm X, and after his death in 2018, his daughter and researcher Tamara Payne completed his work. Claudio Saunt turns a historian’s eye on President Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act in Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. Drawing on firsthand accounts and numerous records produced by the federal government, Saunt reveals how the removal of Native Americans was calculated and connected to the growth of the uniquely American form of capitalism. While interning at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas where the papers of writer Carson McCullers are held, Jenn Shapland discovers letters between Carson McCullers and Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach that imply a romantic relationship between the two. In My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, Shapland plumbs the depths of the Southern writer’s life as well as her own, addressing how queer love stories are hidden and finally told. Jerald Walker’s collection How to Make a Slave and Other Essays includes reflections on the author’s experiences in academia such as racial profiling by a campus security guard, accounts of discussing race with his children, and contemplations on disability and family, all told with a wry comedic eye and deep honesty.

Finalists for Poetry:

 

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s thirteenth collection of poems, A Treatise on Stars, implores that we connect with the larger natural and cosmic world. Two Finalists for Poetry are debut collections, Fantasia for the Man in Blue by Tommye Blount and Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody. The title poem in Fantasia for the Man in Blue is a series of poems ranging throughout the book, a quartet that speaks to the experience and threat of police violence upon Black people. The complex and layered collection is drawn from reality, and exemplifies how desire lives in proximity to the danger of being a marginalized body. A work of documentary poetics, Borderland Apocrypha details the history of trauma and survival at the U.S.-Mexico border. Cody utilizes imagery, historic documents, multi-lingual erasure poems, and more to force a reckoning with history’s silence. Deeply rooted in the personal and political, DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi is structured in eight sections and includes transcriptions of conversations with activist Ahn Hak-sop, her father’s work as a photojournalist, hand-written texts, and more. Choi deftly explores the histories of South Korea and the United States via her return from South Korea in 2016 after years of living in the states. Natalie Diaz‘s second collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, engages with love and history in an anthem of desire against erasure while simultaneously celebrating her survival as an Indigenous queer woman.

Finalists for Translated Literature:

  • Anja Kampmann, High as the Waters Rise
    Translated from the German by Anne Posten
    Catapult

  • Jonas Hassen Khemiri, The Family Clause
    Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers

  • Yu Miri, Tokyo Ueno Station
    Translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
    Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

  • Pilar Quintana, The Bitch
    Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
    World Editions

  • Adania Shibli, Minor Detail
    Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette
    New Directions

Translated from the German by Anne Posten, High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann explores the emotional life of an oil rig worker whose bunkmate fell into the sea and drowned, setting off a chain of events that force his reckoning with the exploitation of natural resources. Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s The Family Clause, translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies, provides insight on one family across a span of only ten days, during which relationships change and memories are brought to the surface. In Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri and translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles, ghost narrator Kazu visits the park in which he last lived as a homeless man. As the book unfolds, the reader learns more about his earlier years and the ways in which Japan’s modernization pushed many to the margins of society, where they were subsequently ignored. The Bitch by Pilar Quintana is a portrait of a woman wrestling with abandonment, love, and her need to nurture. Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, the narrative follows the main character’s adoption of a dog that disappears into the jungle; when the dog returns, she nurses it to health but when it flees once more, there are brutal consequences. Written by Adania Shibli and translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, Minor Detail is split between two interrelated narratives, the latter half following a young woman’s search to discover more about the tragic murder of a Palestinian teenager in 1949, who died the day she was born.

Finalists for Young People’s Literature:

In King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender’s protagonist Kingston James deals with grief, sexual identity, and the perceptions and expectations of family. Traci Chee’s work of historical fiction We Are Not Free follows fourteen teenage narrators whose lives have been changed by the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry from their homes during World War II and includes photographs and documents from the time period, enhancing this portrait of a harrowing time in our nation’s history. Told in verse, Candice Iloh’s protagonist Ada reckons with her past while her exploration of dance grounds her in her body and points a way forward in Every Body Looking. The graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered is written and illustrated by the Newbery Honor winner Victoria Jamieson and based on interviews with co-author Omar Mohamed. Their work chronicles the years Mohamed spent in a Kenyan refugee camp, where limbo and hope co-exist as he awaits news about resettlement and watches the lives of those around him change. Jewish folklore infuses The Way Back by Gavriel Savit, in which two young people travel into a world of spirits and demons and must find their way home to their nineteenth-century shtetl Tupik in Eastern Europe.

The 71st National Book Awards Ceremony will be streamed on YouTube and also available at the Foundation’s website, www.nationalbook.org. Winners of the National Book Awards receive $10,000 and a bronze medal and statue; Winners and Finalists in the Translated Literature category will split the prize evenly between author and translator; Finalists receive $1,000 and a bronze medal.

The Awards Ceremony is the culminating event in a series of entirely virtual National Book Awards events to be held in the coming months. This year, 5 Under 35, the Foundation’s celebration of emerging fiction writers selected by National Book Award Winners, Finalists, Longlisted authors, and former 5 Under 35 honorees will take place on October 20 in partnership with the Miami Book Fair online. The annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference will take place on November 16 in partnership with the Miami Book Fair online. The traditional National Book Awards Finalists Reading will again be hosted by The New School on the evening of November 10 in which all the Finalists will read from their work; this event will be online, free, and open to the public.

National Book Foundation Announces 2020 Fall Season of NBF Presents

National Book Awards authors to appear in a lineup of all virtual programming through 2020

The National Book Foundation today announced its fall NBF Presents lineup of events taking place through December 2020, continuing the expanded programming made possible by a multi-year, $900,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This season of NBF Presents, a moniker under which all of the Foundation’s public programs fall, represents a continued commitment to providing widespread access to high-caliber, topical literary programming that reaches readers everywhere, and now is available to stream in their homes. All announced programming for the fall season will be held exclusively online, and continues the Foundation’s ongoing partnerships with the Brooklyn Book Festival, Miami Book Fair, Portland Book Festival, and Texas Book Festival.

National Book Award–honored authors confirmed to appear at NBF Presents events in the fall season include Carol Anderson, Kwame Alexander, Jericho Brown, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Natalie Diaz, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Marlon James, Ibram X. Kendi, Deesha Philyaw, Jason Reynolds, Richard Rothstein, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, with more to come.

“NBF Presents has given us the opportunity facilitate timely conversations with audiences and readers around the country that we hope will act as entry points to new ways of understanding,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, “This season, we are fortunate to be able to bring these events to people wherever they find themselves right now, as part of our ongoing institutional commitment to both access to literary programming and uplifting great books, and the thinkers behind them.”

This fall, NBF Presents will feature three programs with National Book Award–honored authors and expert moderators speaking on topics from Black politics and voter suppression to envisioning a new American curriculum. These events will include a question-and-answer session with the audience and book sales supported by Loyalty Bookstores.

“Book sales and independent bookstores are still hurting, and now, more than ever, is the time to foster partnerships with organizations like the National Book Foundation so we’re able to better act as support systems to one another,” said Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores. “We are thrilled to partner on NBF Presents events and help continue to expand the audience for great authors and their work.”

The Foundation is deeply appreciative of our partners who have joined together to continue engaging readers through literature, despite in-person programming health and safety constraints.

“The relationships we forge with like-minded stakeholders, both locally and on a national level, are critical in furthering the work we all do,” said Lissette Mendez, director of programs at Miami Book Fair, a seven-year-long partner of the Foundation. “It’s an honor to collaborate with the National Book Foundation to amplify our collective reach in providing access to literary culture and eschewing barriers to participation. I can’t think of a more perfect partner, or a more synergistic affiliation.”

In addition to events featuring National Book Foundation–honored authors, the fall season will include a launch event recognizing the 2020-2021 Literature for Justice Reading List. Annual book festival partnerships continue to celebrate the 2020 National Book Award Longlisters and Finalists in advance of the 71st Annual Awards Ceremony in November. Other signature Awards events, including the Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35 Ceremony and the Finalist Reading, which have previously been in-person events held in New York City, will proceed online in partnership with the Miami Book Fair and The New School, respectively. All Award events, including the Ceremony itself on November 18, have previously been ticketed events, and this year, will be free and open to all.

The full list of confirmed fall NBF Presents events can be found below, with additional details forthcoming. An updated NBF Presents calendar is available at the Foundation’s website.

NBF Presents Fall Schedule

Sunday, October 4, 7:00pm EST
Brooklyn Book Festival

NBF Presents: An Evening with the National Book Awards

Join four authors honored by the 2019 National Book Awards for a conversation on contemporary literature, recognition, and cross-genre Black storytelling. Featuring Kwame Alexander (The Undefeated, Longlist, Young People’s Literature), Jericho Brown (The Tradition, Finalist, Poetry), Marlon James (Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Finalist, Fiction), and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, Longlist, Nonfiction). Moderated by Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation.

 

Wednesday, October 14, 6:00pm EST
NBF Presents: A New Black Politics?

National Book Award Winners Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) and Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America) and Longlister Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership) kick off the virtual mainstage season of NBF Presents for a conversation on the state of Black politics—offering historical context to the global uprising, Black Lives Matter, and response of Black politicians and organizers. Less than a month until the 2020 presidential election, these authors and thinkers consider where this moment leaves Black voters.

 

Tuesday, October 20, 7:00pm EST
Miami Book Fair

5 Under 35 Ceremony

The National Book Foundation presents the 15th annual 5 Under 35 Ceremony to honor five fiction writers under the age of 35: K-Ming Chang (Bestiary), Naima Coster (Halsey Street), Raven Leilani (Luster), Fatima Farheen Mirza (A Place for Us), and C Pam Zhang (How Much of These Hills Is Gold). Their selectors—2019 National Book Award Winner Susan Choi, 2019 National Book Award Finalist Marlon James, 2018 National Book Award Longlister Tayari Jones, 2018 National Book Award Longlister Tommy Orange, and 2012 5 Under 35 honoree Justin Torres—introduce the debut authors who read an excerpt of their work and participate in a live question-and-answer session with the audience. Presented in partnership with the Miami Book Fair.

 

Thursday, October 29, 6:00pm EST
NBF Presents: Segregation to Suppression

National Book Award Longlister Richard Rothstein (The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America) investigates government-required neighborhood segregation of Black and white Americans, and Longlister Carol Anderson (One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy) considers the more recent rollbacks on Black voting. Five days out from the 2020 presidential election, join Rothstein and Anderson for a conversation on how government policies inform segregation, housing, and ultimately, voter suppression in America.

 

Friday, November 6, 6:00pm ET
Portland Book Festival

NBF Presents: An Evening with the National Book Awards

For the third year running, 2020 Longlisters, Finalists, and potential Winners join for a cross-genre panel conversation, presented in partnership with the Portland Book Festival. More information on this year’s line-up coming soon.

 

Tuesday, November 10, 7:00pm ET
The New School
2020 National Book Awards Finalist Reading

All of the National Book Award Finalists in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature traditionally gather before the Awards Ceremony to read excerpts from their honored works. This year, the program will happen virtually, presented in partnership with The New School.

 

Saturday, November 14, 3:00pm ET
Texas Book Festival
NBF Presents: An Afternoon with the National Book Awards

2020 Longlisters, and potential Finalists and Winners, Natalie Diaz (Postcolonial Love Poem, Poetry) and Deesha Philyaw (The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Fiction) discuss their work and recognition in advance of the 71st Annual National Book Awards, presented in partnership with the Texas Book Festival. More information on the line-up coming soon.

 

Wednesday, November 18, 7:00pm ET
The 71st National Book Awards Ceremony

The National Book Foundation presents its lifetime achievement awards to the 2020 honorees, and announces this year’s winners of the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

 

Wednesday, December 2, 3:00pm ET
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop 

Literature for Justice: A Path Forward

The National Book Foundation launches the third and final year of Literature for Justice, a nationwide, book-based campaign that presents an annual reading list to further investigate the carceral system and urge readers forward. The event will feature this year’s selected authors—Dionne Brand (Ossuaries), Nicole R. Fleetwood (Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration), Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California), Sarah Haley (No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and then Making of Jim Crow Modernity), Kelly Lytle Hernández (City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965), and Albert Woodfox (Solitary)—and a live question-and-answer session with the audience. Presented in partnership with Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop.

Supported by the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, in partnership with the Ford Foundation.

 

Tuesday, December 15, 6:00pm ET
NBF Presents: A New American Curriculum

National Book Award–honored authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, Finalist, Nonfiction) and Jason Reynolds (Ghost, Finalist, Young People’s Literature; Long Way Down, Longlist, Young People’s Literature; and Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, Finalist, Young People’s Literature) are invested in the next generation of readers and thinkers, from elementary to secondary or “higher” education. Together, they discuss what a new curriculum can and should look like while the American school system faces ever-increasing challenges of equity and access.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all programs made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For times and locations for events, please visit www.nationalbook.org or the websites of any of our partners.