The 2019 National Book Awards Finalists Announced

October 2019

News

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Twenty-five Finalists to contend for National Book Awards in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature

The twenty-five Finalists for the 2019 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature (YPL) were announced today with VanityFair.com. The five Finalists in each category were selected by a distinguished panel of literary experts, and were advanced from the Longlists announced in September. Between the five categories, there are four writers who have been previously honored by the National Book Awards: Akwaeke Emezi, a 5 Under 35 Honoree in 2018, Toi Derricotte, a Literarian Award recipient in 2016 for her work with Cave Canem, Jason Reynolds, a 2016 YPL Finalist and 2017 YPL Longlister, and Laura Ruby, a 2015 YPL Finalist. Four of the twenty-five Finalists are debuts.

Publishers submitted a total of 1,712 books for this year’s National Book Awards: 397 in Fiction, 600 in Nonfiction, 245 in Poetry, 145 in Translated Literature, and 325 in Young People’s Literature. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential.

The Winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 20 at the 70th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, hosted by LeVar Burton, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented at the Awards dinner: Edmund White will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by John Waters, and Oren J. Teicher will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, presented by Ann Patchett.

FINALISTS FOR FICTION:

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami is set into motion when a Moroccan immigrant is killed under suspicious circumstances, with witnesses and survivors desperate for answers. In Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth, the search for two sisters who have disappeared from a remote Russian city ignites powerful questions about class, gender, and ethnicity. A debut short story collection set in Denver, Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine focuses on Latinas of indigenous descent and explores themes of ancestry, incarceration, illness, gentrification, and domestic violence with compassion and precision. The first installment of a trilogy from Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf incorporates African mythology in an epic story about a lost boy and a cast of fantastical characters searching for the truth. Susan Choi’s novel Trust Exercise is about two students at a performing arts high school who fall in love, but leaves the reader questioning what happened to their relationship as well as the relationship between fact and fiction.

FINALISTS FOR NONFICTION:

Focused on her family’s property in New Orleans, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells the story of how a family, a home, and a city has weathered tragedy, catastrophe, and inequality. In her collection Thick: And Other Essays, Tressie McMillan Cottom offers genre-bending analyses across many topics but remains united in her focus on the experience of black womanhood in America. In What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance, an unexpected encounter with a stranger brings poet Carolyn Forché to El Salvador where she is exposed to a country on the precipice of war. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, the seventh book by Ojibwe author David Treuer, counters familiar narratives about America’s indigenous peoples, documenting survival and modern life, thereby connecting the past with those who are living out its legacy. Written with Leslie George, Solitary revisits the four decades Albert Woodfox spent in solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit, and how he—and the others in the Angola 3—turned injustice into a story of resistance and survival.

FINALISTS FOR POETRY:

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky imagines a protest where a gunshot literally deafens the populace. In her sixth collection Be Recorder, Carmen Giménez Smith sounds a call for rebellion against American complacency and compromise. Jericho Brown’s The Tradition examines the growing presence of terror and trauma in our lives—and introduces a new poetic form called “the duplex.” With an eye towards the impending climate crisis, Sight Lines, Arthur Sze’s tenth collection, uses a broad spectrum of voices and forms to reflect on the imperiled natural world. “I”: New and Selected Poems includes more than 30 new poems by Toi Derricotte and uses an autobiographical perspective to respond to issues of race, gender, class, and other themes.

FINALISTS FOR TRANSLATED LITERATURE: 

  • Khaled Khalifa, Death Is Hard Work
    Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers

  • László Krasznahorkai, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming
    Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet
    New Directions

  • Scholastique Mukasonga, The Barefoot Woman
    Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
    Archipelago Books

  • Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police
    Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
    Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

  • Pajtim Statovci, Crossing
    Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
    Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

Translated from the French by Jordan Stump, The Barefoot Woman is Scholastique Mukasonga’s second memoir about the Rwandan genocide and focuses on the loss of her mother. A family is forced to reunite to bury their father amid the wreckage of Syria’s civil war in Khaled Khalifa’s Odyssean black comedy Death Is Hard Work, which was translated from the Arabic by Leri Price. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, is set on a mysterious island where everyday objects suddenly go missing and the memories of them are suppressed by the new eponymous police force. In Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, Ottilie Mulzet translates László Krasznahorkai’s ambitious sentences from the Hungarian that describe a disgraced baron’s return from exile and a professor’s retreat into the woods to regain control of his thoughts, all set against mounting nationalism and a looming apocalypse. And in Pajtim Statovci’s Crossing, which was translated from the Finnish by David Hackston, two friends flee from Albania to Italy hoping to find acceptance and a place that makes them feel whole.

FINALISTS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE:

Look Both Ways, a novel told in stories by Jason Reynolds, conjures entire worlds out of ten city blocks by sharing the adventures and mishaps that befall children on their ways home from school and is punctuated by illustrations from Alex Nabaum. In Randy Ribay’s novel Patron Saints of Nothing, a Filipino-American student’s life is upended when his cousin is murdered in connection with President Duterte’s war on drugs—and no one will talk about it. Justice and denial also factor into Akwaeke Emezi’s genre-bending first novel for young readers, Pet, in which a transgender teenager lives in a world where adults refuse to admit that the monsters surrounding them actually exist. Set during World War II, Laura Ruby’s Thirteen Doors, Wolves Behind Them All is a novel that chronicles the struggles of siblings abandoned at an orphanage. Martin W. Sandler looks back in history with 1919 The Year that Changed America, which uses archival images to explore a year that brought about Prohibition, suffrage, and a flood of molasses.

The 70th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner will be streamed via Facebook Live and also available at the Foundation’s website, www.nationalbook.org. Winners of the National Book Awards receive $10,000 and a bronze medal and statue; Winners and Finalists in the Translated Literature category will split the prize evenly between author and translator; Finalists receive $1,000 and a bronze medal. The Benefit is hosted by a dinner committee including Lea Carpenter, Caitlin Hoyt, Deborah Needleman, Nicolas Niarchos, Tracy Sherrod, and Shelley Wanger.

The Awards Ceremony is the culminating event of National Book Awards Week. The celebration begins on November 18 with 5 Under 35, the Foundation’s celebration of emerging fiction writers selected by National Book Award Winners, Finalists, Longlisted authors, and former 5 Under 35 honorees. On the morning of November 19, the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference will take place at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. On the evening of November 19, all Finalists will read from their books at the National Book Awards Finalists Reading at The New School. The Finalists Reading is open to the public; tickets are $10 and are available at The New School website.

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