75 annual National book Awards

Director's Note

Director's Note

Dear Readers,

This year we celebrate 75 years of the National Book Awards—75 years of judges committed to the near-impossible task of selecting the very best of what was published that year, of the larger literary community coming together to honor the chosen titles, and of readers everywhere connecting with extraordinary new works.

The National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Longlisters constitute an unparalleled collection of literary history in the United States over the decades, including some of the most illustrious writers of our times, and some names that we may no longer recognize. Awards are inherently idiosyncratic; when I served as a judge for Fiction in 2019, my fellow judges and I had passionate debates about which books to honor, and a different panel of judges might have selected differently. And yet, I believe deeply there is great value in awards, in the spirited deliberations among judges, in the broader discourse sparked among readers around what books are highlighted, and in the ways our shared history can be better understood by examining, too, the voices and books missed—at the judging table and on the lists.

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Meeting of the 1950 National Book Award Poetry Judges (from left to right): Louis Untermeyer, Louise Bogan, Babette Deutsch, W.H. Auden, and Horace Gregory. Facing away from the camera is William Cole, moderator for the National Book Award Committee. Photo credit: Elliott Erwitt.

When we honor great writing, we engage in a communal reading experience that deepens our understanding of both the books and the worlds and stories they bring to life. Celebrating each year’s honored authors is a way of saying to writers and to translators and to poets, these books you have carried within you through long nights and early mornings, returned to over and over, researched and written and re-written—this community of readers receives them with the same care. And it is also a way of saying to the world, we think your books—all these marvelous books—are worthy of debate, of deep consideration, and of celebration.

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John Keene accepting the 2022 National Book Award for Poetry from Kwame Dawes, Poetry Chair. Photo credit: Nathalie Schueller.

As we commemorate 75 years over the course of 2024, our hope is to connect with all of you—readers and partners and writers and colleagues and friends—who make our work celebrating books possible and meaningful. To kick off our year of festivities, we’ll light up the Empire State Building in National Book Foundation blue on March 16, the anniversary of the very first Awards Ceremony in 1950.We’ll be diving into each decade of our history in partnership with The Washington Post, through essays written by National Book Award–honored authors, paired alongside select treasures from our archive. And this summer, we’ll be rolling out a giant, free, prize-filled Summer Reading Adventure for adults in partnership with libraries, bookstores, and friends of Team Book across the country. Both projects are designed to welcome readers everywhere into a year-long conversation about books they love—and what could be a better celebration of literature than that?

When Wright Morris won the National Book Award in 1957 for his novel The Field of Vision, he said,

“… the writer, using fragments of disorder, seeks to impose order on the world around him, that otherwise immense panorama of futility and anarchy. In that panorama the National Book Award is both a beacon and a milestone. It is a shelter where the writer and his public can meet, for a moment, in the clearing, take heart from one another, before returning to the wilderness.”

Here’s to recognizing 75 years of meeting together to take heart and celebrate, and to the reading and meeting and celebrating to come—I hope you join us,

Warmly,

Ruth Dickey Signature

Ruth Dickey
Executive Director

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