Science + Literature

The Science + Literature program identifies three books annually, steered by a committee of scientific and literary experts, to deepen readers’ understanding of science and technology with a focus on work that highlights the diversity of voices in scientific writing. The selected titles act as a catalyst to create discourse, understanding, and engagement with science for communities across the country. Authors receive a $10,000 prize, are celebrated at a ceremony in March, and feature in national public programming.

Each spring, the National Book Foundation invites a growing list of science, technology, and literary professionals across the country to make recommendations in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry rooted in real science or technology research or practices. Eligible books must have been published in English by US publishers based in the United States within the last three years. Committee selections are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors.

To suggest a title, email Programs Coordinator Emily Lovett at elovett@nationalbook.org.

Science + Literature is made possible by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

2024 SCIENCE + LITERATURE SELECTED TITLES   |   ABOUT THE SELECTIONS   |   2024 SELECTION COMMITTEE

The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths, by Brad FoxThe Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems by Arthur SzeDigging Stars by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

 

The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems by Arthur Sze
ISBN: 9781556597060
Copper Canyon Press

The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems

by Arthur Sze

COMMITTEE’S CITATION:

Spanning 50 years and 11 books, The Glass Constellation confirms Arthur Sze’s reputation as a contemporary master. It also offers readers an overview of his unique approach to science writing. Sze is a cosmologist whose poems blend Chinese Buddhist, American indigenous, and Western scientific worldviews to produce meditations on simultaneity and the intricately patterned fabric of the real. Yoking the earth-bound and the heavenly, full of cosmic wonder, his individual lyrics and ambitious sequences balance a love of beauty and formal equipoise with an acknowledgement of violence and chance. A meticulous craftsperson, Sze honors the poignance of each moment we share while on earth by finding forms that capture what he calls ‘the unrepeatable contour of this breath.'”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

National Book Award winner Arthur Sze is a master poet, and The Glass Constellation is a triumph spanning five decades, comprising ten previous poetry collections and 26 new poems. Sze began his career writing compressed, lyrical poems influenced by classical Chinese poetry; he later made a leap into powerful polysemous sequences, honing a distinct stylistic signature that harnesses luminous particulars and is sharply focused, emotionally resonant, and structurally complex. Fusing elements of Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and various Western experimental traditions—employing startling juxtapositions that are always on target and deeply informed by concern for our endangered planet and troubled species—Arthur Sze presents experience in all its multiplicities, in book after indelible book. This collection is a visionary body of work, mapping the evolution of one of our finest American poets.

author photo of poet Arthur Sze. (Photo credit: Mariana Cook)
Arthur Sze. (Photo credit: Mariana Cook)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Arthur Sze has published 11 books of poetry, including The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems and Sight Lines, which won the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. A new collection, The Silk Dragon II: Translations of Chinese Poetry, is forthcoming. Sze is the recipient of many honors, including a 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a 2021 Shelley Memorial Award, and the Jackson Poetry Prize. He is Professor Emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Digging Stars, by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
ISBN: 9781324035176
W. W. Norton & Company

Digging Stars 

by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

COMMITTEE’S CITATION:

Digging Stars spans generations and continents to tell the intensely personal story of Athandwa, an astrophysicist navigating grief, mental health challenges, and the politics of practicing science. Through a vivid cast of characters, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma asks fundamental questions about the scientific enterprise and eschews simple answers, instead revealing an underlying complexity, deeply entwined with the social context in which science is practiced. Athandwa’s sharp wit and love of the night sky suffuses the novel with a sense of wonder.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

With admission to The Program, an elite interdisciplinary graduate cohort at the forefront of astronomy and technology, Rosa’s dreams are finally within reach. Her research into the cosmos follows in the footsteps of her astronomer father’s revolutionary work in Bantu geometries and Indigenous astronomies. A bona fide genius, he transformed the scientific landscape by fusing the best of Western and Indigenous scientific thought. Yet since his death during her childhood, Rosa has been plagued by anxiety attacks she dubs “The Terrors”—and by unresolved questions about her father’s life. Who is his mysterious friend Mr. C? Who was her father, really?

Digging Stars is a paean to the cosmos and a celebration of the democratic spirit of knowledge. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s characters explode the rigid matrices of the academy to prove that science, art, technology, and history are all planets orbiting the same sun.

Author photo of Novuyo Tshuma. (Photo credit: Cynthia Ayeza)
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. (Photo credit: Cynthia Ayeza)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s latest novel is Digging Stars. Her first novel, House of Stone, won the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award and the Bulawayo Arts Award for Outstanding Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the Balcones Fiction Prize, and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize. A recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, Tshuma has taught graduate fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently teaches at Emerson College.

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2024 SELECTION COMMITTEE

2023 SCIENCE + LITERATURE SELECTED TITLES   |   ABOUT THE SELECTIONS   |   2023 SELECTION COMMITTEE

Book cover for Dyke (geology), by Sabrina ImblerReal Life by Brandon TaylorBlockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside by Xiaowei Wang

 

Book cover for Real Life by Brandon Taylor
ISBN: 9781911547747
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Real Life

by Brandon Taylor

COMMITTEE’S CITATION:

“Real Life presents important questions of navigating society and a world of whiteness in the pursuit of a career in science, while also managing the heavy expectations of color, individual expression, community, and family. This novel should hit close to home for any BIPOC academic in science (or not) who struggles in a tower that is often too ivory—and more times than not, unprepared to deal with difference. Taylor’s work is personally riveting and atmospheric. The dialogue never tires. The scenes are dynamic and well-paced. It is timely and highly recommended reading for all.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community. Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.

author photo of Brandon Taylor
Brandon Taylor. (Photo credit: Haolun Xu)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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.

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Book cover for Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside by Xiaowei Wang
ISBN: 9780374538668
FSG Originals / Macmillan Publishers

 

Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside

by Xiaowei R. Wang

COMMITTEE’S CITATION:

“Amidst the growing demand to better understand the social implications of digital technology, Blockchain Chicken Farm stands out as a culturally sensitive and original contribution. Xiaowei Wang offers a rare and enlightened window into the globalization of rural China and deftly explores how the applied science of modern machinery, of artificial intelligence, is deeply intertwined with people, places, and politics. Each essay in this plucky collection asks urgent questions about our humanity and communal future, shaped now by the rapid rise of tech in seemingly unlikely places.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In Blockchain Chicken Farm, the technologist and writer Xiaowei Wang explores the political and social entanglements of technology in rural China. Their discoveries force them to challenge the standard idea that rural culture and people are backward, conservative, and intolerant. Instead, they find that rural China has not only adapted to rapid globalization but has actually innovated the technology we all use today.

Xiaowei R. Wang. (Photo credit: Ian Pearce)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Xiaowei R. Wang is a technologist, a filmmaker, an artist, and a writer. The creative director at Logic magazine, their work encompasses community-based and public art projects, data visualization, technology, ecology, and education. Their projects have been finalists for the INDEX Design Awards and featured by the New York Times, the BBC, CNN, VICE, and elsewhere. They are working toward a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, where they are a part of the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship, “Environment and Society: Data Science for the 21st Century.”

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2023 SELECTION COMMITTEES

Ben Green, 2023 Science + Literature Committee member
Ben Green. (Photo credit: Salome Viljoen)
J. Drew Lanham, 2023 Science + Literature Committee member. (No photo credit provided.)
J. Drew Lanham
Latif Nasser, 2023 Science + Literature Committee member. (No photo credit provided.)
Latif Nasser
Aimee Nezhukumatathil (No photo credit provided)
Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Chair)
author photo of Weike Wang
Weike Wang

 

2022 SCIENCE + LITERATURE SELECTED TITLES   |   ABOUT THE SELECTIONS   |   2022 SELECTION COMMITTEE

The Radiant Lives of Animals by Linda HoganIn the Field, by Rachel Pastan

 

ISBN: 9780807047927
Beacon Press

The Radiant Lives of Animals

by Linda Hogan

COMMITTEE’S CITATION:

Linda Hogan’s collection The Radiant Lives of Animals is a brilliant evocation of the infinite ways in which the subjects of nature shape human perception and being. In both verse and prose, Hogan draws on Native ways of seeing the biological, the botanical, the geological, and the cosmological that have long been sidelined or suppressed, offering readers a heartrending glimpse of the beauty of the wild world and the trauma of its destruction.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Concerned that human lives and the natural world are too often defined by people who are separated from the land and its inhabitants, Indigenous writer and environmentalist Linda Hogan depicts her own intense relationships with animals as an example we all can follow to heal our souls and reconnect with the spirit of the world. In this illuminating collection of essays and poems, lightly sprinkled with elegant drawings, Hogan draws on many Native nations’ ancient stories and spiritual traditions to show us that the soul exists in those delicate places where the natural world extends into human consciousness—in the midst of morning, the grass that grew a little through the night, the first warmth of this morning’s sunlight. Altogether, this beautifully packaged gift is a reverential reminder for us all to witness and appreciate the radiant lives of animals. —in the mist of morning, the grass that grew a little through the night, the first warmth of this morning’s sunlight. Altogether, this beautifully packaged gift is a reverential reminder for all of us to witness and appreciate the radiant lives of animals.

Linda Hogan

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) is a poet, novelist, essayist, teacher, and activist. Her work illuminates environmental and Indigenous activism, as well as Native spirituality. She was born in Oklahoma and now lives and works in Idledale, Colorado, a town of 252 human souls. Her literary works have earned her fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Native Arts and Culture Foundation, and awards including the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas’ Lifetime Achievement Award and the Henry David Thoreau Prize.

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In the Field, by Rachel Pastan

In the Field

by Rachel Pastan

COMMITTEE’S CITATION:

In vivid, well-crafted prose, Rachel Pastan’s novel In the Field brings us into the professional and private life of a dedicated female geneticist, born in the 1920s, whose challenges and sacrifices illustrate how science, far from being impersonal, is practiced by people—how the pursuit of knowledge is shaped by the social norms and preconceptions that limit our behavior as individuals, and delay the acceptance of new ideas by the scientific community.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In 1923, having persuaded her resistant mother to send her to college, Kate Croft falls in love with science. Painfully rebuffed by a girl she longs for, and in flight from her own confusing sexuality, Kate finds refuge in the calm rationality of biology: its vision of a deeply interconnected world, and the promise that the new field of genetics can explain the way people are.

But science, too, turns out to be marred by human weakness. Despite her hard work and extraordinary gifts, Kate struggles, facing discrimination, competition, and scientific theft. At the same time, a love affair is threatened by Kate’s obsession with figuring out the meaning of the puzzling changes she sees in her experiments. The novel explores what it takes to triumph in the ruthless world of mid-20th-century genetics, following Kate as she decides what she is—and is not—willing to sacrifice to succeed.

Rachel Pastan author photo
Rachel Pastan. (Photo credit: Andy Shelter)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rachel Pastan is the author of four novels, most recently In the Field. Her previous novel, Alena, was named an Editors’ Choice in the New York Times Book Review. The daughter of a molecular geneticist and a poet, she has worked as editor-at-large at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and taught fiction writing at the Bennington Writing Seminars, Swarthmore College, and elsewhere.

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2022 SELECTION COMMITTEE

Dr. Morgan Halene
Lydia Millet (Chair)
Dr. Safiya U. Noble
Margot Lee Shetterly
Aaron Yazzie

 

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