The National Book Foundation today announced the Longlist for the 2023 National Book Award for Fiction. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on Tuesday, October 3.
The 2023 Fiction Longlist includes authors at all stages of their careers, and features a debut novel and a debut short story collection. Three authors on the Fiction Longlist have been previously honored by the National Book Foundation: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah was a 2018 5 Under 35 honoree; Jayne Anne Phillips was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 2009; and Justin Torres was a 2012 5 Under 35 honoree. The Longlisted authors have been recognized by numerous other awards and honors, including the Arts and Letters Award, the Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Whiting Award, and many more. Among these ten Longlisters are Cullman Center, Guggenheim, MacDowell, National Endowment for the Arts, and Stegner fellows. Their writing has been featured in A Public Space, Granta, Guernica, The Kenyon Review, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.
Two titles centering queer characters ask: how do the stories we tell to and about ourselves impact our identity, self-understanding, and history itself? An unnamed narrator is tasked with continuing his dying mentor’s life work in Justin Torres’ Blackouts. The story—inspired by a queer-led research study that was co-opted to pathologize homosexuality—considers the gaps in personal and collective queer history, and how stories have the power to keep people alive. Eliot Duncan’s semiautobiographical coming-of-age story Ponyboy follows its titular character from Paris to Berlin where he grapples with reconciling his trans-masculinity and the expectations of his girlfriend, Baby. As he spirals deeper into substance abuse and eventually overdoses, Ponyboy returns home to Iowa in this exploration of addiction, recovery, and naming oneself.
Two novels consider the interiorities, and subjugation, of Black and Indigenous women. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s dystopian novel Chain-Gang All-Stars simulates a private for-profit prison system where prisoners compete in live-broadcast gladiator-inspired death matches. This novel positions freedom as an impossible prize and offers unflinching commentary on the exploitation of Black women, systemic racism, capitalism, and mass incarceration. Inventively structured, A Council of Dolls is the story of three generations of Native women—Cora, Lillian, and Sissy—told in reverse chronological order with help from the dolls that kept them company from childhood into adulthood. Mona Susan Power illuminates the horrors of Indian boarding schools, the impacts of intergenerational trauma, and the enduring strength that comes from unconditional, ancestral love.
This year’s Longlist includes two titles that study the effects of war within countries and communities. In Tania James’s epic 18th-century tale, Loot, a young woodcarver is commissioned by the sultan to build a life-size, mauling tiger automaton, which is stolen by the British. Spanning decades and ranging from India to Europe, this novel is an interrogation of war and colonialism that asks who has the right to claim ownership over art and history. One hundred years later, across the Atlantic Ocean is Jayne Anne Phillips’s Night Watch, which follows a mother and daughter in post-Civil War West Virginia. Twelve-year-old ConaLee and her mother Eliza are left at an asylum by a war veteran, and the duo become entangled in the facility and the lives of the people who work there—the cook, the doctor, and the peculiar man they call the Night Watch—in this story of endurance, healing, and starting over.
Two titles in this year’s Longlist parse the intersection of power, influence, and subjugation. Inspired by the true story of Malaga Island, Paul Harding’s novel This Other Eden traces the legacy and lineage of the racially integrated fishing community living on a secluded island off the coast of Maine from 1792 to the early 20th century. When a white missionary arrives on the island, the predominately Black and poor community is swiftly displaced from their homes as a result of the rising eugenics movement in this tale of survival and belonging in the face of intolerance. In a different remote village in northern Scandinavia, Hanna Pylväinen’s The End of Drum-Time follows native Sámi residents as they weather a Lutheran minister’s vexatious attempts to convert them—and the wholly unexpected conversion of one of the town’s most esteemed reindeer herders. When the minister’s daughter falls in love with the son of the unlikely convert, she joins the herders on their annual migration to the sea as this intensely researched 19th-century novel weaves together cultural, spiritual, and political divides.
The two short story collections recognized reflect upon the interplay of faith, culture, and community. From a dutiful daughter interrupted by her father’s ghost as she attempts to write his eulogy to a teenager who discovers she never believed in God, the characters in Aaliyah Bilal’s ten stories are forced to reckon with conflicts between religion and independence. In her debut short story collection Temple Folk, Bilal compassionately unfurls the inner lives of her protagonists, examining the complex contradictions of the Black Muslim experience in America. At the heart of LaToya Watkins’s short story collection Holler, Child is yearning, displayed in wives dismissed by their partners, sisters searching for their estranged brother, and a father who becomes overly attached to his dog after his son’s death. Featuring a cast of Black men and women hailing from West Texas, the characters in these eleven stories grapple with grief, secrets, and the realization that you’ll never fully know those you love.
Publishers submitted a total of 496 books for the 2023 National Book Award for Fiction. The judges for Fiction are Steph Cha, Calvin Crosby, Silas House, Mat Johnson (Chair), and Helena María Viramontes. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors, and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the National Book Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Chain-Gang All-Stars
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House
Aaliyah Bilal, Temple Folk
Simon & Schuster
Eliot Duncan, Ponyboy
W. W. Norton & Company
Paul Harding, This Other Eden
W. W. Norton & Company
Tania James, Loot
Knopf / Penguin Random House
Jayne Anne Phillips, Night Watch
Knopf / Penguin Random House
Mona Susan Power, A Council of Dolls
Mariner Books / HarperCollins Publishers
Hanna Pylväinen, The End of Drum-Time
Henry Holt and Company / Macmillan Publishers
Justin Torres, Blackouts
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
LaToya Watkins, Holler, Child
Tiny Reparations Books / Penguin Random House