National Book Awards finalists show that black art matters
Early Wednesday morning the National Book Awards committees cut down their long lists of forty works to the final twenty book selections across Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction and Young People’s Literature categories.
According to NPR, two legacy winners have already been announced: Annie Proulx, who is being honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; and Dick Robinson, the president and CEO of Scholastic, who is being awarded the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Below is a list of the finalists:
Elliot Ackerman: Dark at the Crossing
Lisa Ko: The Leavers
Min Jin Lee: Pachinko
Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties: Stories
Jesmyn Ward: Sing, Unburied, Sing
Erica Armstrong Dunbar: Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
Frances FitzGerald: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
Masha Gessen: The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
David Grann: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
Nancy MacLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
Frank Bidart: Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016
Leslie Harrison: The Book of Endings
Layli Long Soldier: WHEREAS
Shane McCrae: In the Language of My Captor
Danez Smith: Don’t Call Us Dead:Poems
Young People’s Literature:
Elana K. Arnold: What Girls Are Made Of
Robin Benway: Far from the Tree
Erika L. Sanchez: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Rita Williams-Garcia: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Ibi Zoboi: American Street
Who we’re rooting for:
Ibi Zoboi’s debut novel draws from her experiences as a Haitian immigrant to America and is infused with notes of magical realism and voudou culture, a lyrical exploration of America. It follows Fabiola Toussaint and what happens to her after her mother is taken by U.S. immigration agents. American Street has been praised by many for its beautiful storytelling and raw depiction of humanity.
Rita Williams-Garcia’s book tells the story of Clayton Byrd, a young boy who loves the blues and his grandfather. Clayton must grapple with grief and loss, and eventually runs away from home after his mother forbids him to play the blues after his grandfather dies. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground has drawn praise for its exploration of grief, anger, family and forgiveness in a relatively short space.
Danez Smith’s dazzling second poetry collection is a space where America itself is alternatively confronted, praised and rebuked. It opens with an imagined afterlife for black men shot by the police, where the violence and suspicion that killed them is replaced with the safety and love and the lives they should have had. Don’t Call Us Dead has been praised as one of the best books of the year and Smith’s blending of the erotic, the political, activism and anger has been called breathtaking.
Shane McCrae’s collection of poetry tells the story of freedom through using historical persona poems and one prose memoir. The book’s three sequences explore mass entertainment’s role in oppression, challenges the idea that freedom is based on the power to dominate, and interrogates the connections between racism and love. In The Language of my Captor has been lauded for its willingness to face American racism head on, and its use of rhetoric and device to craft an unbroken narrative across time.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s account of Ona Judge, one of George Washington’s slaves and the lengths which Washington went to reclaim his property is both remarkably written and thoroughly researched. Judge does not have much scholarship devoted to her which makes Dunbar’s account both noteworthy and distinctive. Never Caught has gotten acclaim for its compelling story, its depiction of Washington and its meticulous eye for historical detail.
Jesmyn Ward’s Fiction novel is about family, Mississippi and America itself. It follows the turbulent life of Jojo, a thirteen year old boy being raised by his grandparents because his father is in jail and his mother is a drug addict. Jojo also befriends a ghost while his mother deals with her own haunted highs. Sing, Unburied, Sing has drawn praise from the literary community for its expansive and layered construction, its shifting narrators and Ward’s sparkling prose and gifted storytelling.
The National Book Awards winners will be announced on November 15 in New York City.