2021 National Book Awards Finalists Announced

October 2021



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 2021 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature were announced with NYTimes.com. 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 five writers and two translators who have been previously honored by the National Book Awards: Hanif Abdurraqib, a 2019 Nonfiction Longlister; Anthony Doerr, a 2014 Fiction Finalist; Nona Fernández and Natasha Wimmer, 2019 Translated Literature Longlisters; Lauren Groff, a Finalist for Fiction in 2015 and in 2018; Kekla Magoon, a 2015 Young People’s Literature Longlister; and Leri Price, a 2019 Translated Literature Finalist. All five of the Finalists for Poetry are first-time National Book Award honorees. Four of the twenty-five Finalists are debuts.

Publishers submitted a total of 1,892 books for this year’s National Book Awards: 415 in Fiction, 679 in Nonfiction, 290 in Poetry, 164 in Translated Literature, and 344 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 live on Wednesday, November 17 at the 72nd 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: Karen Tei Yamashita will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and Nancy Pearl will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, presented by Ron Charles.

Finalists for Fiction:

Anthony Doerr, Cloud Cuckoo Land
Scribner / Simon & Schuster

Lauren Groff, Matrix
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Laird Hunt, Zorrie
Bloomsbury Publishing

Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets
G. P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin Random House

Jason Mott, Hell of a Book
Dutton / Penguin Random House

Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land spans nearly six centuries as young people coming of age in troubled societies are transported and instructed by the same long-lost book. In Lauren Groff’s latest novel, Matrix, Marie is deemed unfit for marriage, banished from France, and becomes the prioress of a poverty-stricken abbey in England, where she dedicates herself to protecting her new home, her fellow nuns, and her own status. The titular character of Zorrie by Laird Hunt is shaped by the events of the 20th century, from her Depression-era childhood to the fallout of World War II. Robert Jones Jr.’s debut novel, The Prophets, is a Black queer love story of two enslaved men on a Deep South plantation who find tenderness in the face of oppression. Jason Mott fictionalizes his own book tour experience in Hell of a Book, converging an author tour with the story of a Black child growing up in the rural South, and a possibly imaginary counterpart.

Finalists for Nonfiction:

Hanif Abdurraqib, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance
Random House / Penguin Random House

Lucas Bessire, Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains
Princeton University Press

Grace M. Cho, Tastes Like War: A Memoir
Feminist Press at the City University of New York

Nicole Eustace, Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America
Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company

Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
Random House / Penguin Random House

Hanif Abdurraqib layers personal experience, sociopolitical critique, and celebration of Black genius in A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance. In Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains, Lucas Bessire journeys to his ancestral home of southwest Kansas, addresses the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, and demands we all take responsibility for a more sustainable future. Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho is part food memoir and part sociological study. In search for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia, Cho cooks her grandmother’s recipes and documents how the body carries the effects of war, colonialism, xenophobia, and the immigrant experience. In Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America, Nicole Eustace recounts the overlooked 1722 murder case of an Indigenous hunter and eventual trial to explore the meaning of justice in the pre-Revolutionary War era. Tiya Miles’s All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake is the emotionally rich story of an enslaved woman’s cotton bag and an unpacking of generations of history, survival, and familial love.

Finalists for Poetry:

Desiree C. Bailey, What Noise Against the Cane
Yale University Press

Martín Espada, Floaters
W. W. Norton & Company

Douglas Kearney, Sho
Wave Books

Hoa Nguyen, A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure
Wave Books

Jackie Wang, The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void
Nightboat Books

Desiree C. Bailey’s What Noise Against the Cane, winner of the 2020 Yale Younger Poets Prize, honors ancestors of the Haitian Revolution and mines the complexities of home for a Black woman in contemporary America. In Floaters, Martín Espada celebrates his late activist father, condemns government inaction in the aftermath of Hurricane María, and pays tribute to the migrants who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. Douglas Kearney’s Sho plays with Black vernacular and performance to investigate race, masculinity, and current events. In A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, Hoa Nguyen grapples with all she does not know about her motherland, her mother tongue, and her mother. Jackie Wang documents her dreams to process collective trauma for both living and non-living creatures and to find hope in the sunflower still able to sprout in The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the World.

Finalists for Translated Literature:

Elisa Shua Dusapin, Winter in Sokcho
Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Open Letter

Ge Fei, Peach Blossom Paradise
Translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse
New York Review Books

Nona Fernández, The Twilight Zone
Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
Graywolf Press

Benjamín Labatut, When We Cease to Understand the World
Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West
New York Review Books

Samar Yazbek, Planet of Clay
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price
World Editions

In the offseason at a South Korean resort, a young French Korean woman working as a hotel receptionist befriends a hotel guest in Elisa Shua Dusapin’s debut novel, Winter in Sokcho, which was translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. Peach Blossom Paradise by Ge Fei and translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse, blends history and mythology to tell the story of Xiumi, a young woman struggling to uphold personal autonomy in China during the Hundred Days’ Reform. Nona Fernández’s The Twilight Zone, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, follows the narrator’s life-long obsession with a member of the Chilean secret police who confessed to participating in some of the worst crimes committed by Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Written by Benjamín Labatut and translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, When We Cease to Understand the World is a fictional account of the lives of renowned scientists and mathematicians, including Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger. Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek and translated from the Arabic by Leri Price tells the story of a young girl named Rima who chases freedom through books, secret planets, and art in the midst of the Syrian Civil War.

Finalists for Young People’s Literature:

Shing Yin Khor, The Legend of Auntie Po
Kokila / Penguin Random House

Malinda Lo, Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Kyle Lukoff, Too Bright to See
Dial Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Kekla Magoon, Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Candlewick Press

Amber McBride, Me (Moth)
Feiwel and Friends / Macmillan Publishers

In Shing Yin Khor’s graphic novel The Legend of Auntie Po, Mei retells the myth of Paul Bunyan, while navigating the intersections of privilege, race, and immigration in the years following the Chinese Exclusion Act. Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo follows its 17-year-old protagonist, Lily, as she finds first love and fights to claim her queer identity. In Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, eleven-year-old Bug has two mysteries at hand—a haunted house and an evolving gender identity. Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon explores the Black Panther Party’s prioritization of justice and community care, and connects the Party’s principles to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. After losing her family in a tragic car accident, Moth feels alone until she meets Sani, and together, they embark on a road trip to discover their ancestry in Amber McBride’s Me (Moth).

The National Book Foundation will once again broadcast the National Book Awards Ceremony on YouTube, Facebook, and the Foundation’s website at nationalbook.org/awards. Winners of the National Book Awards receive $10,000 and a bronze medal and statue; Finalists receive $1,000 and a bronze medal; Winners and Finalists in the Translated Literature category will split the prize evenly between author and translator.

The Awards Ceremony is the culminating event in a series of entirely virtual National Book Awards events to be held in the coming months. The traditional National Book Awards Finalists Reading, in which all the Finalists will read from their work, will be hosted by The New School on the evening of November 9; this event will be online, free, and open to the public. The annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, hosted by Kwame Alexander, will take place on November 10. The 2021 5 Under 35 cohort, the Foundation’s celebration of emerging fiction writers selected by National Book Award Winners, Finalists, Longlisted authors, and former 5 Under 35 honorees, will be honored at an invitation-only ceremony in Spring 2022.