Inaugural “Inside Literary Prize” will send a selection of National Book Award honorees to hundreds of incarcerated people in a dozen prisons across the country; Inside Literary Prize winner to be announced in June 2024
Freedom Reads, the National Book Foundation, and the Center for Justice Innovation announced the launch of the Inside Literary Prize, the first-ever US-based literary prize awarded exclusively by currently incarcerated people. The prize will be awarded in June 2024 to one exceptional book by a jury of 300 incarcerated individuals from a dozen prisons across the nation. This new initiative, which is also supported by Lori Feathers, literary podcaster and co-owner of Interabang Books, seeks to expand access to our country’s most thought-provoking literature for people who are incarcerated.
Over the coming months, 25 judges at each of 12 prisons across six states—including both men’s and women’s facilities—will be given copies of the four National Book Award-honored books listed below. Freedom Reads will provide each facility with additional sets of each book for general circulation in the facility library, as well as for correctional staff. Throughout the Spring 2024, Inside Literary Prize organizers will travel to each prison to lead live discussions, conduct voting, and host literary readings with acclaimed authors previously honored by the National Book Awards.
“Reading literature and poetry throughout my nearly nine years in prison played an enormous role in shaping the person I am today,” said Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts. “Through the reading and judging of leading American literary works, the Inside Literary Prize competition will provide a national platform for incarcerated individuals to meaningfully participate in our shared national cultural conversation. Freedom Reads could not be more proud to work with our partners on this initiative as we turn this vision into an annual reality. Freedom begins with a book.”
“The Inside Literary Prize fosters meaningful dialogue around some of the most exceptional books of our time,” said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “The National Book Foundation is proud to continue our partnership with Freedom Reads around this new initiative with the Center for Justice Innovation and Lori Feathers, which furthers our commitment to connect readers across the country with National Book Award–honored authors and their work.”
“It is inspiring to partner with correctional facilities around the country to launch this literary prize that honors how engaging with great books can both build community and facilitate a deeper appreciation of our shared human experience,” said Lori Feathers, literary podcaster and co-owner, Interabang Books.
“We are thrilled to support the Inside Literary Prize, which connects currently incarcerated people with some of the nation’s best literature,” said Courtney Bryan, Executive Director of the Center for Justice Innovation. “The Center for Justice Innovation is committed to elevating the voices of those impacted by the legal system and building safe, strong, just communities. The Inside Literary Prize uses the power of books to support the dignity of those who are incarcerated, valuing their insight and celebrating our shared humanity.”
The books to be considered for the inaugural prize were determined by a Selection Committee comprising incarcerated readers, writers, and Departments of Corrections librarians, who chose the following four books from the list of Finalists for the 2022 National Book Awards:
A currently incarcerated member of the Selection Committee, Courtney Quillen, shared in a letter that “The experience was a wonderful one. The thrill of exciting new books is one we cherish,” adding, “we are thankful to have been a part of this project.”
Corinne Leone, Director of New York State Correctional Library Services Library Services, also served on the Selection Committee, and summed up her feelings about the experience—“I wish I could read all day, lately.”
Another member of the Selection Committee, a formerly incarcerated writer named Dempsey, shared his thoughts about this initiative: “I like to read books as much as Charles Dickens liked to write them. Books were my salvation in prison. They enabled me to think better about myself and the world. As a free man, my work with Freedom Reads allows me to help those incarcerated find joy, peace, knowledge, and perspective through books. In essence, I view the Freedom Reads agenda as a gift the way literature is a gift. An eternal gift that leads one on an exploration into the highest and lowest levels of the human spirit, of the imagination, and of the heart.”
This holiday season, you can bring the joy of reading to families living in public housing communities throughout the country.
Book Rich Environments, the National Book Foundation’s farthest reaching access and education program, works in 56 communities from Tacoma, WA to Tampa, FL and from Los Angeles, CA to Springfield, MA. The National Book Foundation provides new, free, diverse books to local partners who distribute them year-round through community events that connect families with local literary resources including library cards, and other essential services.
We have committed local partners who run community programming, generous publishers who donate books year after year, and many, many excited participants. What we don’t have is a funding source that covers the significant cost of shipping 200,000 books to over 50 communities across the country. That’s where you come in!
Each year, the Finalists in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature gather the evening before the National Book Awards Ceremony to read excerpts from their honored works.
The 2023 National Book Awards Finalist Reading will be hosted by Parul Sehgal, staff writer at The New Yorker.
The event will be presented in person at NYU Skirball and livestreamed.
The program will begin at 7:00pm EST.
Presented in partnership with the NYU Creative Writing Program.
To learn more about the 2023 National Book Awards Finalists, click here.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Chain-Gang All-Stars
Aaliyah Bilal, Temple Folk
Paul Harding, This Other Eden
Hanna Pylväinen, The End of Drum-Time
Justin Torres, Blackouts
Ned Blackhawk, The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History
Cristina Rivera Garza, Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice
Christina Sharpe, Ordinary Notes
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
John Lee Clark, How to Communicate
Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory [åmot]
Evie Shockley, suddenly we
Brandon Som, Tripas
Monica Youn, From From
Translated Literature Finalists:
Bora Chung and translator Anton Hur, Cursed Bunny
David Diop and translator Sam Taylor, Beyond the Door of No Return
Stênio Gardel and translator Bruna Dantas Lobato, The Words That Remain
Pilar Quintana and translator Lisa Dillman, Abyss
Astrid Roemer and translator Lucy Scott, On a Woman’s Madness
Young People’s Literature Finalists:
Kenneth M. Cadow, Gather
Huda Fahmy, Huda F Cares?
Vashti Harrison, Big
Katherine Marsh, The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine
Dan Santat, A First Time for Everything
(Finalists will not appear in this order. For select Finalists unable to attend, a literary luminary will read on their behalf.)
ABOUT PARUL SEHGAL
Parul Sehgal is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She was previously a book critic at the New York Times, where she also worked as a senior editor and columnist. She has won awards for her criticism from the New York Press Club, the National Book Critics Circle, and the Robert B. Silvers Foundation. She teaches in the graduate creative writing program at New York University.
The National Book Awards Teen Press Conference brings the excitement of the most prestigious literary award in the US to middle and high school students in New York City, and across the country. Held during National Book Awards Week, Teen Press Conference invites school groups to attend a free literary event that is curated just for them.
Tuesday November 14th, 2023 Livestream: 10:30am-11:30am EST
Dhonielle Clayton is a New York Times bestselling author of The Conjureverse series, The Belles series, Shattered Midnight, co-author of Blackout, Whiteout, The Rumor Game, and of the Tiny Pretty Things duology, a Netflix original series. She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs on the Maryland side. She taught secondary school for several years, and is a former elementary and middle school librarian. She is COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books. She is the President and founder of Cake Creative and Electric Postcard Entertainment, IP story companies creating diverse books for all ages. She’s an avid traveller, and always on the hunt for magic and mischief.
Teen Press Conference is supported, in part, by The National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, today announced LeVar Burton, renowned actor, director, and author, will host the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner on November 15, 2023 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.
“LeVar Burton has introduced multiple generations of young people to the joys of reading, and is a fearless advocate for book access, especially amidst the alarming rise in book banning across the country,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “We are delighted to welcome LeVar back onto the National Book Awards stage, alongside special guest Oprah Winfrey, to champion the power of literature as the host this year’s Ceremony & Benefit Dinner.”
“I’m a big believer in the power of the written word, and am proud to stand alongside the National Book Foundation to celebrate exceptional storytelling and the Foundation’s mission to make books accessible to everyone, everywhere,” said LeVar Burton. “It’s an honor to return as host of the biggest night for books, especially in a moment when the freedom to read is at risk and literature both needs and deserves our recognition and support.”
Actor, director, producer, writer, and podcaster LeVar Burton is recognized globally for his role as Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge in the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation television and film series; his breakout role as Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries Roots; and as the host and executive producer of the PBS children’s television series, Reading Rainbow. Burton continues to inspire new generations of readers with his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, in which he reads and discusses a work of short fiction in every episode. He is also the award-winning author of Aftermath, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, and A Kids Book About Imagination. In 2019, Burton hosted the 70th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner. Most recently, Burton served as the Honorary Chair of Banned Books Week 2023, an annual week-long series of events that draws attention to the rising movement of book censorship in the United States and highlights the importance of free and open access to information for readers of all ages. The National Book Foundation is a Banned Books Week coalition member.
“We are honored to have LeVar Burton—a longtime friend and ally of the National Book Foundation—join us to celebrate the power of stories,” said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “From his role as the beloved host of Reading Rainbow to his new documentary The Right to Read, Burton’s unique and contagious passion for books has inspired countless readers. This year—more than ever before—books are at risk, and we are tremendously proud to have a champion like Burton celebrate authors, translators, and readers everywhere as the host of the 2023 National Book Awards.”
The National Book Award Winners in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature will be announced live on Wednesday, November 15. The five Finalists in each category were selected by a distinguished panel of judges, and were announced earlier this month by the New York Times. The invitation-only 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, featuring special guest Oprah Winfrey, will also include the presentation of two lifetime achievement awards. Rita Dove, National Book Award Finalist and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by National Book Award Finalist Jericho Brown, and Paul Yamazaki, principal buyer at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, presented by Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan. Readers everywhere can register for the National Book Awards Ceremony broadcast at nationalbook.org/awards.
In addition to announcing the National Book Award Winners, the Benefit Dinner drives funding for the Foundation’s year-round educational and public programming to connect readers of all ages, in every corner of the country, with books and authors. For more information about the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, including sponsorship opportunities, please visit the National Book Foundation website.
ABOUT LEVAR BURTON:
LeVar Burton is an actor, director, producer, and podcaster whose decades-long body of work includes Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Reading Rainbow. He is the honored recipient of seven NAACP Awards, a Peabody Award, a Grammy Award, and 15 Emmy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Inaugural Children’s & Family Emmys.
As a lifelong literacy advocate, Burton has dedicated decades to encouraging children to read. In 2023, Burton premiered his first documentary, The Right to Read, a film that positions the literacy crisis in America as a civil rights issue. The Right to Read was an official selection at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and SXSW EDU.
Burton continues to exercise his passion for storytelling as the award-winning author of Aftermath, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, and A Kids Book About Imagination. He launched his first book club with Fable, a digital book club community, and partnered with Masterclass, to share the power of storytelling.
His production company, LeVar Burton Entertainment (LBE), develops projects in the film, television, podcasting, and publishing space with the mission to share stories that fosters empathy, champions diversity, and builds community.
Now in its 12th season, the enormously popular LeVar Burton Reads podcast has over 175 episodes in its catalog, boasting 25 million downloads. LBE’s first Kids & Family podcast, Sound Detectives, will debut on Stitcher in July of 2023.
As a pop culture icon, Burton has the unique ability to reach across all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic groups–communicating to a large fan base that is highly engaged and motivated to embrace his message.
Image: LeVar Burton. (Photo credit: Sarah Coulter for Paramount+)
Twenty-five Finalists to contend for National Book Awards in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature
The 25 Finalists for the 2023 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature were announced with the New York Times. The five Finalists in each category were selected by a distinguished panel of judges, and were advanced from the Longlists announced in September with The New Yorker.
Between the five categories, there are four writers and one translator who have been previously honored by the National Book Foundation: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah was a 2018 5 Under 35 honoree; Pilar Quintana and Lisa Dillman were Finalists for Translated Literature in 2020; Justin Torres was a 2012 5 Under 35 honoree; and Monica Youn was a Finalist for Poetry in 2010 and a Longlister for Poetry in 2016. All of the Finalists in the categories of Nonfiction and Young People’s Literature are first-time National Book Award honorees. Three of the 25 Finalists are debuts, and 11 independent, nonprofit, and university publishers are represented.
The 2023 Finalists will read from their work at the annual National Book Awards Finalist Reading, hosted by writer and comedian Amber Ruffin, on the evening of Tuesday, November 14 at NYU Skirball. The Finalist Reading is presented in partnership with the National Book Foundation and the NYU Creative Writing Program, and tickets are available for purchase on NYU Skirball’s website. On the morning of November 14, the annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference for middle and high school students, featuring the Finalists in the category of Young People’s Literature, will be hosted by author Dhonielle Clayton. Both events will be in-person and livestreamed, and more information on all upcoming National Book Foundation events is available at the Foundation’s website.
The Winners will be announced live on Wednesday, November 15 at the invitation-only 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, featuring special guest Oprah Winfrey, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The National Book Foundation will broadcast the Ceremony for readers everywhere on YouTube, Facebook, and the Foundation’s website at nationalbook.org/awards. Winners of the National Book Awards receive $10,000, 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. Two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented as part of the evening’s ceremony: Rita Dove, National Book Award Finalist and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by Jericho Brown, and Paul Yamazaki, principal buyer at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, presented by Mitchell Kaplan.
Publishers submitted a total of 1,931 books for this year’s National Book Awards: 496 in Fiction, 638 in Nonfiction, 295 in Poetry, 154 in Translated Literature, and 348 in Young People’s Literature. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors, and deliberations are strictly confidential.
Justin Torres, Blackouts Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s dystopian novel Chain-Gang All-Stars simulates a private for-profit prison system where prisoners compete for freedom in live-broadcast gladiator-inspired death matches. Aaliyah Bilal’s debut short story collection, Temple Folk, examines the diversity of the Black Muslim experience in America.Paul Harding’s novel This Other Eden traces the legacy of a mixed-race fishing community living on a secluded island off the coast of Maine from 1792 to the early 20th century. In Hanna Pylväinen’sThe End of Drum-Time, a Lutheran minister’s daughter falls in love with a native Sámi reindeer herder and joins the herders on their annual migration to the sea in 1850s Scandinavia. Justin Torres’s Blackouts considers the multigenerational gaps in personal and collective queer histories through the real-life inspiration of Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns.
Historian Ned Blackhawk’s The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History recontextualizes five centuries of US, Native, and non-native histories to argue that Indigenous peoples have played—and continue to play—an essential role in the development of American democracy. In Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice, Cristina Rivera Garza travels to Mexico City to recover her sister’s unresolved case file nearly 30 years after her murder, simultaneously honoring her sister’s life and examining how violence against women affects everyone. Across 248 notes, Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes investigates the legacy of white supremacy and slavery, and presents a kaleidoscopic narrative that celebrates the Black American experience. In We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir, attorney and activist Raja Shehadeh explores his complicated relationship with his father—a lawyer and Palestinian human rights activist who was assassinated in 1985— alongside histories of oppression. In Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, journalist John Vaillant studies the May 2016 wildfire that devastated a small city in central Canada to make the case that the catastrophic Fort McMurray fire was a foreboding window into what the future holds.
John Lee Clark’s How to Communicate considers the small joys and pains of life, and the endless possibilities of language through poems influenced by the Braille slate and translated from American Sign Language and Protactile, a language used by DeafBlind people that’s rooted in touch. Craig Santos Perez observes and asserts storytelling as an act of resistance—a written form of “åmot,” the Chamoru word for “medicine”—in from unincorporated territory [åmot], the fifth installment in his series dedicated to his homeland of Guåhan (Guam). Evie Shockley plays with visuals, sounds, and poetic form to pay homage to Black feminist visionaries, both living and departed, of a collective “we” in suddenly we. Tripas celebrates Brandon Som’s upbringing in a multicultural, multigenerational home, traversing languages, cultures, and borders to connect his family’s histories. Through poetry and personal essays, Monica Youn’s From From confronts American racism and anti-Asian violence, and reflects back the question of “where are you from from” onto its readers.
Finalists for Translated Literature:
Bora Chung, Cursed Bunny Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur Algonquin Books / Hachette Book Group
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur, the ten stories in Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny dive headfirst into the surreal to tackle the very real horrors of big tech, capitalism, and the patriarchy. Beyond the Door of No Return by David Diop and translated from the French by Sam Taylor, contemplates the brutality of French colonial occupation and the consequences of obsession, love, and betrayal in 18th-century West Africa. In his seventies, a man is finally able to read a letter from his childhood lover in The Words That Remain by Stênio Gardel, a debut novel translated from the Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato that explores queerness, violence, and the transformative power of the written word. Abyss by Pilar Quintana and translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, follows an 8-year-old narrator as she makes sense of the world by observing the adults around her, perceiving the complexities of family life at once as real and fantastical. In Astrid Roemer’s On A Woman’s Madness, translated from the Dutch by Lucy Scott, a queer Black woman escapes her abusive husband in search of a new, freer life beyond society’s expectations.
In Gather, Kenneth M. Cadow’s debut novel, a teenager fights to maintain his family’s home, find a job, and care for his mother as she recovers from her opioid addiction—all the while adopting Gather, a stray dog. Huda F Cares?, a graphic novel written and illustrated by Huda Fahmy, follows a visibly Muslim family on their road trip to Disney World, and tells a story of self-acceptance, faith, and the joys and embarrassments of sisterhood. Big, a picture book written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, is the story of a little girl with a big heart and big dreams who learns that “big” doesn’t always have a positive connotation and offers readers of all ages an important reminder that words matter. The Lost Year by Katherine Marsh follows a 13 year-old who uncovers a family secret tracing back to Holodomor, a government-imposed famine that led to the death of millions of Ukrainians. Dan Santat captures the awkward middle school experience in A First Time for Everything, a graphic memoir inspired by the author’s class trip, and a series of life-changing firsts, in Europe.
National Book Award Winners Nikky Finney (Head Off & Split, 2011 Poetry Winner) and Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus, 2015 Poetry Winner) excavate and reimagine family and historical archives as poetry in their recent books Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry and To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness.
The authors join National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming, 2014 Young People’s Literature Winner) in conversation on the care of community archival work and the power of Black stories amidst continued book banning.
Presented in partnership with Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. This is an official 2023 Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event.
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.
2023 Longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction:
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, TheNew 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.
2023 Longlist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction: