US National Book Awards: Opening to Non-US Citizens

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The updated eligibility criteria are intended, the National Book Foundation leadership says, ‘to celebrate the widest possible array of voices and stories.’

Authors join National Book Award fiction winner Justin Torres onstage at New York City’s Cipriani Wall Street near the end of the December 15 awards program. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

More on the 2023 National Book Awards:
The US National Book Awards: Unity in Season of Diversity
US National Book Awards: David Steinberger’s Narrative
US National Book Awards: The 2023 Finalists

Steinberger: ‘More Reflective of the US Literary Landscape’
In recent years, as readers of Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of book and publishing awards know, there have been several cases in which higher-profile book and publishing awards programs have decided to broaden their eligibility requirements for authors whose work is submitted.

Today’s (February 15) announcement from the National Book Foundation about the United States’ National Book Awards‘ change in eligibility opens the program to submissions of work by authors who are not citizens of the United States, as long as they “maintain their primary, long-term home in the United States, US territories, or Tribal lands.”

These new updated criteria will be in effect as of March 13, when submissions for the 75th National Book Awards open.

The change comes at a time of intense debate, controversy, and often severe acrimony in the United States, as the accelerating rightist dynamics of the Republican Party drive issues of immigration—generally couched in terms of border control—into a central election-year focus.

David Steinberger

“The fundamental mission of the National Book Foundation,” says the National Book Foundation chair David Steinberger, “is to celebrate the best literature published in the United  States, and to ensure that books remain at the forefront of our vibrant culture.

“We believe in the value of all stories, and it’s our hope that by further opening our existing submissions process, the National Book Awards will be more reflective of the US literary landscape and better able to recognize the immense literary contributions of authors that consider the United States their home.”

Ruth Dickey

The National Book Foundation executive director, Ruth Dickey, says, “The foundation is eager to take this key step toward ensuring that the National Book Awards are welcoming to all writers living and working in the United States

“As we reflect on the rich 75-year history of the National Book Awards and look to the future, we believe  that the National Book Awards must celebrate the widest possible array of voices and stories published in the United  States in order to continue bringing essential works to readers and communities across the country.”

A Petition Raised in 2018

In 2018, a petition was raised to expand eligibility to include authors “actively pursuing, or unable to pursue, US citizenship,” today’s media messaging notes. The change in criteria being announced today “will sunset [that] petition process.

As our internationalist readership is well aware, the newest of the National Book Awards’ five categories—the award for Translated Literature—was never bound by a citizenship requirement, either for a nominated translator or author. That award was introduced in 2018.

Just to cover the precise language of the newly updated eligibility requirements as they are expressed for the upcoming submission period, we quote them here:

“To be eligible for the National Book Awards, books must be published by US publishers located in the United  States. The publication date must be within the eligibility period of December 1, 2023, and November 30, 2024. 

“For the Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature awards, authors must either hold US  citizenship or maintain their primary, long-term home in the United States, US territories, or Tribal lands,  regardless of immigration status, at the commencement of the eligibility period for the current awards cycle.

“For the Translated Literature award, there are no citizenship or residency requirements for either  author or translator.”

In the upcoming 75th anniversary cycle, the jury will select 50 longlist titles, 10 in each of the five categories, for announcement in mid-September, followed by 25 shortlistees (called finalists in National Book Awards terminology), to be announced on October 1. The awards ceremony is set this year for November 20.

A Precedent in the United Kingdom

In her article on the change this morning, Alexandra Alter at The New York Times points to eligibility adjustments in the States’ accolades, specifically the Pulitzer Prizes and the awards of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation.

“We believe in the value of all stories, and it’s our hope that by further opening our existing submissions process, the National Book Awards will be more reflective of the US literary landscape and better able to recognize the immense literary contributions of authors that consider the United States their home.”David Steinberger, National Book Foundation

Internationally, easily the most prominent adjustment of this kind has come in the Booker Prize for Fiction‘s expansion of author eligibility to include authors of any nationality whose submitted work was written originally in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Previously, the program (then the Man Booker) had allowed only Commonwealth and Irish citizens’ work to be entered.

By 2018, objections to the Booker’s change were lodged by as many as 30 publishers in a letter─intended to be private─that asserted “the rule change to allow any writer writing in English and published in the UK to enter has restricted the diversity of the prize and led to the domination of American authors since it came into effect in 2014,” according to Sian Cain’s report in The Guardian.

The Booker Prize Foundation has, however, held its ground amid that and other objections, and since February 2019 has a US-based fund (Palo Alto, California) as the prime sponsor which replaced Man: Crankstart is the charitable foundation of the British venture capitalist Michael Moritz and his wife, the American journalist Harriet Heyman.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards in the United States is here and more on the huge field of international book awards and prizes is here. More from us on the United States’ market is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

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.com, 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.