US National Book Awards: The 2020 Shortlisted Finalists

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Eight of the 25 titles announced today are debut works in the shortlists for the 71st annual National Book Awards. Winners are to be announced in a digital ceremony on November 18.

The late Toni Morrison at the 2012 National Book Awards, receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Image: National Book Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

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Preferring to talk of finalists rather than shortlists, the United States’ National Book Awards have today (October 6) released their 25 finalists in the National Book Foundation’s 71st annual round of honors.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the program’s two special awards were announced first. The late Carolyn Reidy has been named to receive the Literarian Award posthumously, and author Walter Mosley will be recognized with the 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Winners will be named live in the digital National Book Awards ceremony on November 18. Winners receive US$10,000. In the case of the Translated Literature award, the author and translator split the money.

Taking the five categories together, publishers submitted 1,692 books for this year’s competition: 388 in fiction, 609 in nonfiction, 254 in poetry, 130 in translated literature, and 311 in young people’s literature.

At today’s Publishers Lunch, Michael Cader is making the point that “The biggest publishers are thoroughly under-represented this year, publishing only two of the fiction nominees, one of the nonfiction candidates, none of the poetry finalists, and two of the translated literature titles.”

Of course, if you’re a proponent of smaller and independent presses, you may see this as a very positive reflection of good work beyond the majors.

All is subjective in love and book awards.

National Book Award Finalists: Translated Literature

Jurors for this category are Dinaw Mengestu (chair), Heather Cleary, John Darnielle, Anne Ishii, and Brad Johnson.

Author Translator Title Publisher, Imprint
Anja Kampmann Anne Posten High as the Waters Rise Catapult
Jonas Hassen Khemiri Alice Menzies The Family Clause Macmillan / Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Yu Miri Morgan Giles Tokyo Ueno Station Penguin Random House / Riverhead
Pilar Quintana Lisa Dillman The Bitch World Editions
Adania Shibli Elisabeth Jaquette Minor Detail New Directions
National Book Award Finalists: Fiction

The jurors for this category are Roxane Gay (chair), Cristina Henríquez, Laird Hunt, Rebecca Makkai, and Keaton Patterson.

Author Title Publisher, Imprint
Rumaan Alam Leave the World Behind HarperCollins / Ecco
Lydia Millet A Children’s Bible WW Norton
Deesha Philyaw The Secret Lives of Church Ladies West Virginia University Press
Douglas Stuart Shuggie Bain Grove Press / Grove Atlantic
Charles Yu Interior Chinatown Penguin Random House / Pantheon
National Book Award Finalists: Nonfiction

The jurors for this category are Terry Tempest Williams (chair), James Goodman, Yunte Huang, Hannah Oliver Depp, and David Treuer.

Author Title Publisher, Imprint
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio The Undocumented Americans  Penguin Random House / One World
Les Payne, Tamara Payne The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X WW Norton / Liveright
Claudio Saunt Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory WW Norton
Jenn Shapland My Autobiography of Carson McCullers Tin House
Jerald Walker How To Make a Slave and Other Essays Ohio State University / Mad Creek
National Book Award Finalists: Young People’s Literature

The jurors for this category are Joan Trygg (chair), Randy Ribay, Neal Shusterman, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Colleen AF Venable.

Author Title Publisher, Imprint
Kacen Callendar King and the Dragonflies Scholastic
Traci Chee We Are Not Free Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Candice Iloh Every Body Looking Penguin Random House / Dutton for Young Readers
Victoria Jamieson, Omar Mohamed When Stars Are Scattered Penguin Random House / Dial for Young Readers
Gavriel Savit The Way Back Penguin Random House / Knopf for Young Readers
National Book Award Finalists: Poetry

The jurors for this category are  Layli Long Soldier (Chair), Rigoberto González, John Hennessy, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and Elizabeth Willis.

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge A Treatise on Stars New Directions
Tommye Blount Fantasia for the Man in Blue Four Way Books
Don Mee Choi DMZ Colony Wave
Anthony Cody Borderland Apocrypha Omnidawn
Natalie Diaz Postcolonial Love Poem Graywolf

Below is a retrospective video on the first 70 years of the National Book Awards program, from the National Book Foundation.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards is here, and on awards programs in general is here

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.