2021 National Book Awards Judges
Alan Michael Parker has written four novels, including Christmas in July and The Committee on Town Happiness, and nine collections of poems. Houchens Professor of English at Davidson College, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Believer, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. He has received three Pushcart Prizes, and two selections in Best American Poetry; new stories and cartoons have recently appeared or will appear in journals in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. (Photo credit: Chris Record)
Emily Pullen is the Reader Services Coordinator for the New York Public Library. She was on the selection committee for the Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. For a decade, she worked in independent bookstores: WORD in Brooklyn, Skylight Books in Los Angeles, and Porter Square Books in Massachusetts. She served on the Bookseller Advisory Council for the American Booksellers Association. She grew up in Iowa and lives in Beacon, NY with her wife, cats, and several books. (Photo credit: Jonathan Blanc, NYPL)
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton studied creative writing at Dartmouth College and law at UC Berkeley. Her most recent novel, The Revisioners, won a 2020 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, was a national bestseller, and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her debut novel, A Kind of Freedom, was Longlisted for the National Book Award. She lives in Oakland, CA with her family. (Photo credit: Melissa Schmidt)
Luis Alberto Urrea (Chair) is a Guggenheim Fellow, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the bestselling author of 18 books. His honors include a Pushcart Prize, an American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, and an Edgar Award. His most recent book, The House of Broken Angels was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He is a distinguished professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago. (Photo credit: Brave Lux, Joe Mazza)
Charles Yu is the author of four books, including Interior Chinatown, which won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, and Wired, among other publications. He lives in southern California with his wife, Michelle, and their two children. (Photo credit: Tina Chiou)
Eula Biss is the author of four books, most recently Having and Being Had. Her book On Immunity: An Inoculation was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review and Notes from No Man’s Land won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism in 2009. Her essays have recently appeared in The Paris Review, Guardian, and The New Yorker. She teaches nonfiction writing at Northwestern University.
Aaron John Curtis has had essays in City Link Magazine, World Book Night’s inaugural eBook, The Selkie, and in the collection Badass: Lip Service True Stories. A member of the Akwesasne Kanienkehaka (Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe), Aaron has judged for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance prizes, and the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. Since 2004, Aaron has been Quartermaster at Books & Books, Miami’s largest independent bookstore. (Photo credit: MOCHEE)
Nell Painter (Chair), the author of The History of White People; Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol; and Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over, is Madame Chairman of MacDowell’s Board of Directors. She writes opinion pieces for the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Paris Review, and other journals when not painting self-portraits and reading artist’s books that visualize people and history. (Photo credit: Dwight Carter)
Kate Tuttle is a writer and editor. A former president of the National Book Critics Circle, she edits the books section of the Boston Globe, for which she also writes a weekly interview column. (Photo credit: Steve Hockstein)
Along with two memoirs, Jerald Walker is the author of How to Make a Slave and Other Essays, a 2020 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction. His work has appeared in publications such as The Harvard Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Iowa Review, and Mother Jones, and it has been widely anthologized, including five times in the Best American Essays series. He is a Professor of Creative Writing and African American Literature at Emerson College. (Photo credit: Brenda Molife)
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Don Mee Choi is the author of the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry Winner DMZ Colony, Hardly War, The Morning News Is Exciting, and several pamphlets of poems and essays. She is a recipient of the Whiting Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, the International Griffin Poetry Prize (Translation), and a DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship. (Photo credit: Song Got)
Natalie Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. She is the author of two poetry collections, When My Brother Was an Aztec and Postcolonial Love Poem, a Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry. She has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a United States Artists Fellowship, and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellowship. Diaz is Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
Matthea Harvey is the author of five books of poetry—If the Tabloids are True What Are You?, Of Lamb (an illustrated erasure with images by Amy Jean Porter), Modern Life (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and a New York Times Notable Book), Sad Little Breathing Machine, and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form. She has also published two children’s books, Cecil the Pet Glacier, illustrated by Giselle Potter, and The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel. A Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, she teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. (Photo credit: Robert Casper)
A. Van Jordan (Chair) is the author of four collections: Rise, which won the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award; M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A; Quantum Lyrics; and The Cineast. Jordan has been awarded a Whiting Award, an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He is also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a United States Artists Fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. He has taught at a number of institutions including the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of Texas at Austin, Rutgers University-Newark where he served as the Henry Rutgers Presidential Professor, and at the University of Michigan, where he currently serves as the Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of English Language & Literature and as Director of the Helen Zell Writers MFA Program. (Photo credit: A. Alvarez)
Ilya Kaminsky is the author of Deaf Republic, which won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Jean Stein Award. He is also the author of Dancing in Odessa, and has co-edited many anthologies, including The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. He has received a Whiting Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was named a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. (Photo credit: Cybele Knowles, 2013, Courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center)
Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel, Florence in Ecstasy, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2017 and was translated into six languages. She was the recipient of a Fulbright to Italy, and she is a contributing writer at Words Without Borders, where she previously edited WWB Daily. She lives in New York City. (Photo credit: Heather Waraksa)
Sergio de la Pava is the author of the novels A Naked Singularity, Personae, and Lost Empress.
(Photo credit: Sharon Daniels)
Born in Andhra Pradesh, India, Madhu H. Kaza is a writer, translator, artist, and educator based in New York. She is a translator of contemporary Telugu fiction and the editor of Kitchen Table Translation. She works for the Bard Prison Initiative, where she serves as Faculty Advisor to the Microcollege and also teaches in the MFA program at Columbia University.
Achy Obejas is the author of the forthcoming Boomerang/Bumerán, a bilingual poetry collection, as well as The Tower of the Antilles, which was a finalist for the 2018 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, among other honors. Her novels include Ruins and Days of Awe, which was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Her poetry chapbook, This is What Happened in Our Other Life, was both a critical hit and a national bestseller. As a translator, Havana-born Achy has worked with Wendy Guerra, Rita Indiana, Junot Díaz, and Megan Maxwell, among others. A recipient of a United States Artists Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a CINTAS Foundation Fellowship, among other awards, she is currently a writer/editor for Netflix and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Photo credit: Rachel Beser)
Stephen Snyder (Chair) serves as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Language Schools at Middlebury College. He has translated works by Kenzaburō Ōe, Yu Miri, Natsuo Kirino, and Ryū Murakami, among others. His translation of Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police was a Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature and for the International Booker Prize. (Photo credit: Cindy Palmer)
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE
Pablo Cartaya is the award-winning author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, and Each Tiny Spark. His novels have received honors from the American Library Association Youth Media Awards and included on over thirty state award lists. Pablo holds a BA in English from Loyola Marymount University and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is currently lead faculty at Sierra Nevada University’s MFA program and lives in Miami with his familia. (Photo credit: Zoe Milenkovic)
Traci Chee is a best-selling and award-winning author of books for young people, including the instant New York Times bestseller The Reader and Michael L. Printz Honor Book and National Book Award Finalist We Are Not Free. Her forthcoming title, A Thousand Steps into Night, is a Japanese-influenced YA fantasy. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, egg painting, bonsai gardening, and hosting game nights for family and friends. She lives in California with her fast dog. (Photo credit: Topher Simon)
Leslie Connor is the author of the middle grade novels, Waiting for Normal, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, a Finalist for the 2018 National Book Award, and most recently, A Home for Goddesses and Dogs. Leslie is a two-time winner of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, and finalist for the E.B. White Read Aloud. Her titles have appeared on many state reading lists. Leslie holds a BFA in Fine Art from the University of Connecticut. She lives with her husband and three rescue dogs in a little house in the Connecticut woods. (Photo credit: Leslie Connor)
Cathryn Mercier (Chair) directs the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the graduate degree programs in Literature for Children and Young Adults at Simmons University. She contributed to the anthologies Keywords for Children’s Literature and Teaching Young Adult Literature. She has served on the committees for the Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, the Geisel Award, the Sibert Medal, the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. She has been a board member of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Simmons University)
Ibi Zoboi’s debut young adult novel, American Street, was a National Book Award Finalist and her debut middle grade novel, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, was a New York Times bestseller. She is also the author of Pride, a contemporary YA remix of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which is in development with HBO as a limited series; and editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Her most recent New York Times bestseller, Punching the Air, co-authored by prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, is a Walter Award winner and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Born in Haiti and raised in New York City, Ibi lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three teenage children. (Photo credit: Richard Louissant)