The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2023 National Book Award for Nonfiction. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on Tuesday, October 3.
The 2023 Nonfiction Longlist includes emerging and established writers, and features works of memoir, science writing, biographies of both iconic figures and unsung heroes, investigative works that reframe historically significant events, and more. Viet Thanh Nguyen, who was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016, is the sole honoree on the 2023 Nonfiction Longlist who has been previously recognized by the National Book Awards. This year’s Nonfiction Longlist includes two MacArthur Fellows and a Guggenheim Fellow. The Longlisted authors have been previously honored by the Orwell Prize, the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize, the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize. Their work has appeared in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, The American Historical Review, The Atlantic, Artforum, Ebony, Essence, GQ, National Geographic, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, the New York Times, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.
Two memoirs in this year’s Longlist explore what it means to be a conflicted citizen, and what it means to live through conflict. In his memoir, Viet Thanh Nguyen weaves together an intensely personal reflection of the Vietnamese refugee experience with the history of colonization, war, and anti-Asian racism in the United States. A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, A History, A Memorial is a complex meditation on Nguyen’s life as a father and a son, and an exploration of the murkiness of memory and necessity of forgiveness. Three decades after his father’s assassination in 1985, attorney and activist Raja Shehadeh tasks himself with reviewing his father’s archives and uncovers legal cases, letters, and other meticulously organized documents that shine a new light on his father’s legacy as a lawyer and Palestinian human rights activist. A simultaneously personal and historically rich memoir, We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir probes the fraught relationship between a father and son, examining the many ways their lives are parallel both despite, and because of, disagreement.
Two titles recognize the profound impact of Indigenous peoples and Black Americans on US history and its necessary context to understand present-day America and how it came to be. Historian Ned Blackhawk recontextualizes five centuries of US, Native, and non-native histories to argue that in the face of extreme violence, land dispossession, and catastrophic epidemics, Indigenous peoples played, and continue to play, an essential role in the development of American democracy. The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History brings Native American history to the forefront of the narrative, acknowledging Native communities’ agency, strength, and ongoing efforts to reclaim autonomy. Kidada E. Williams examines the Reconstruction-era South from the perspective of formerly enslaved people as they began to build new lives in defiance of white supremacist violence. I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction investigates overlooked archival records, employs oral history methods, and includes new scholarship on the impacts of generational trauma to consider the enduring effects of political disenfranchisement, economic inequality, and anti-Black violence.
The 2023 Nonfiction Longlist includes two books authored by journalists that dive deep into the environmental and societal ramifications of human behavior—on one another and on the world around them. Journalist Donovan X. Ramsey explores the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s through four profiles of individuals whose lives were impacted by the crisis. Connecting the civil rights era and war on drugs to today’s conversations about police brutality, gentrification, and mass incarceration, When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era argues that the low-income Black and brown communities disproportionately affected should receive the assistance they have been denied for generations. Just over the US border, journalist John Vaillant studies the May 2016 wildfire that devastated a small city in central Canada and its relationship to climate science, fossil fuels, and the unparalleled destruction brought about by modern wildfires in Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World. Ultimately, Vaillant makes the case that the catastrophic Fort McMurray event was not an anomaly, but rather a foreboding window into what the future holds.
Two Longlisted titles analyze individual histories to tell a broader story about American history. King: A Life—the first major biography of Martin Luther King Jr. in decades, and the first to include newly declassified FBI files—offers a comprehensive and nuanced portrait of the civil rights leader as an imperfect man. Jonathan Eig’s lens provides new insights into the King family and wider activist network, while underscoring the relevance of King’s call for equality, freedom, and racial and economic justice today. In The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever, Prudence Peiffer pays homage to six artists who lived and worked on the same street in lower Manhattan during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Peiffer’s touching group biography questions the very idea of a “movement”—tracing the respective careers of this distinctive creative community and their impact on art and film in the late 20th century.
Two Longlisted titles collect, inspect, and make meaning of documents of the past to imagine new futures. Ordinary Notes gathers personal and public artifacts that cover everything from history, art, photography, and literature, to beauty, memory, and language. Across 248 notes, Christina Sharpe examines the legacy of white supremacy and slavery, crowdsources entries for a “Dictionary of Untranslatable Blackness,” and presents a kaleidoscopic narrative that celebrates the Black American experience. Inspired by global feminist movements, Cristina Rivera Garza travels to Mexico City to recover her sister’s unresolved case file nearly 30 years after she was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. Drawing on police reports, notebooks, handwritten letters, and interviews from those who were closest to her, Rivera Garza preserves her sister’s legacy and examines how violence against women affects everyone, regardless of gender, in Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice.
Publishers submitted a total of 638 books for the 2023 National Book Award for Nonfiction. The judges for Nonfiction are Hanif Abdurraqib, Ada Ferrer (Chair), James Fugate, Sarah Schulman, and Sonia Shah. 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.
Ned Blackhawk, The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History
Yale University Press
Jonathan Eig, King: A Life
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Viet Thanh Nguyen, A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, A History, A Memorial
Grove Press / Grove Atlantic
Prudence Peiffer, The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever
Harper / HarperCollins Publishers
Donovan X. Ramsey, When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era
One World / Penguin Random House
Cristina Rivera Garza, Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice
Hogarth / Penguin Random House
Christina Sharpe, Ordinary Notes
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Raja Shehadeh, We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir
John Vaillant, Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World
Knopf / Penguin Random House
Kidada E. Williams, I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction