The National Book Foundation (NBF) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation today announced selected titles for the second year of the Science + Literature program. The initiative identifies three books annually that deepen readers’ understanding of science and technology and focuses on highlighting the diversity of voices in contemporary science and technology writing. Authors receive a $10,000 cash prize, are celebrated at a ceremony in March, and will be featured in associated national public programming. The titles are selected by a committee of five scientific and literary experts, also announced today. The program is made possible by a three-year, $525,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation.
The three selected titles—all authored by queer writers of color—include a hybrid chapbook, a novel, and an essay collection. A blend of lyrical science writing, prose poem, and autofiction, Sabrina Imbler’s chapbook Dyke (geology) juxtaposes the lifecycles—and dating cycles—of both Hawaiian volcanoes and a queer human narrator, as they erupt and reveal new understandings of each other. Brandon Taylor’s debut novel Real Life follows Wallace, a queer Black man from Alabama who is pursuing a biochemistry degree in the Midwest, as he questions the pursuit of a career in science and what it means to live a “real life” in an environment steeped with racism, isolation, and repressed trauma. In Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside, Xiaowei R. Wang examines the intersection of politics, agriculture, and technology in China’s rural revitalization strategy. Wang shares case studies and personal stories—including their own family’s—to portray the knowns and unknowns of a rapidly changing world influenced by artificial intelligence and power.
“These deeply engaging works—from stories rooted in science journalism and lived experiences to fictional narratives rich with scientific understanding—demonstrate the many ways in which science and technology permeate our everyday lives,” said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “This year’s selected titles contribute to a national conversation around the importance of diverse scientific writing and are sure to offer something for every kind of reader.”
“We are delighted to join the National Book Foundation in recognizing these three powerful and unique writers engaging with scientific themes and characters across poetry, fiction, and nonfiction,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Science seeks to uncover universal truths about nature, but every human being’s lived experience is different and these gifted storytellers shine a light on the complex inner lives of their characters as they explore the mysteries of the external world. We’re proud to add these outstanding authors to Sloan’s nationwide book program, which has supported over 200 books from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winner American Prometheus and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race to this year’s Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller and Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage by Rachel E. Gross.”
An in-person ceremony will be held on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, featuring readings and conversation with the selected authors. This year’s ceremony will be free and open to the public, and is presented in partnership with The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a distinguished private college of art, architecture and engineering founded in 1859 by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper.
The 2023 selection committee includes authors and scientists whose work across fields make science and the humanities more accessible for everyone. Ben Green is a postdoctoral scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows and the author of The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim our Urban Future; J. Drew Lanham is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University, a 2022 MacArthur Fellow, and the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature; Latif Nasser is the host of WNYC’s Radiolab and Netflix’s Connected; Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Chair) is the author of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments and poetry editor of Sierra magazine; and Weike Wang is the author of Chemistry and Joan Is Okay, and is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree.
“Now in its second year, Science + Literature continues to identify books and writers that break down complex scientific concepts through exceptional storytelling,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “We are grateful to the Sloan Foundation, this year’s selection committee, and our national programming partners, whose generous support makes Science + Literature possible.”
Public events featuring the selected authors will take place in cities across the country in Spring 2023 following the March ceremony, including with partners at the Chicago Humanities Festival in Chicago, IL, which connects people to the ideas that shape and define us, and promotes the lifelong exploration of what it means to be human; the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles, CA, which, since 1996 has gathered writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and emerging storytellers; and Boise State University, a public research university in Boise, ID focused on student success with an innovation mindset. Event details coming soon.
Sabrina Imbler, Dyke (geology)
Black Lawrence Press
Brandon Taylor, Real Life
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House
Xiaowei R. Wang, Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside
FSG Originals / Macmillan Publishers
Sabrina Imbler is a science writer living in Brooklyn. They are the author of the chapbook Dyke (geology) and the essay collection, How Far the Light Reaches. Imbler is a staff writer at Defector Media, an employee-owned sports and culture site, where they write blogs about creatures and the natural world.
Brandon Taylor is the author of Real Life, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and of the national bestseller Filthy Animals, which won The Story Prize and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. He holds graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction.
Xiaowei R. Wang is an artist, writer, and technologist. They are the author of Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside. Currently, they are one of the stewards of Logic School, an organizing community for tech workers; a research fellow at the UCLA Center on Race and Digital Justice; and a Senior Civic Media Fellow at the University of Southern California Annenberg Innovation Lab.
Ben Green is a postdoctoral scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows and an assistant professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics, with a secondary field in Science, Technology, and Society, from Harvard University. He studies the ethics of government algorithms, with a focus on algorithmic fairness, human-algorithm interactions, and AI regulation. He is the author of The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future. Green is also an Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and a Fellow at the Center for Democracy & Technology. Starting in 2023, he will be an assistant professor in the University of Michigan School of Information.
J. Drew Lanham is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University, and a 2022 MacArthur Fellow. He is an author and the 2022 Poet Laureate of Edgefield, South Carolina. His creative works include The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, Sparrow Envy: Poems, and Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts.
Latif Nasser is co-host of the award-winning WNYC Studios show Radiolab, where he has reported on everything from snowflake photography to meat allergies to space junk. He also hosted and executive produced the Emmy-nominated Netflix science docuseries Connected. He has given two TED talks, wrote for the Boston Globe Ideas section, and has a PhD from Harvard University’s History of Science department.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Chair) is the author of the New York Times bestseller World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, which was named the 2020 Barnes & Noble Book of the Year, and four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic. Awards for her writing include Guggenheim and NEA fellowships. She is the poetry editor of The Sierra Club’s Sierra magazine and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.
Weike Wang is the author of Chemistry and Joan is Okay. She is the recipient of the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award and a Whiting Award, and is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories 2019, and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2019. She earned her MFA from Boston University and her other degrees from Harvard University. She currently lives in New York City and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and Barnard College.