2019 National Book Awards Finalists Revealed

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2019 National Book Awards Finalists Revealed

A total of 1,712 books were submitted for consideration for this year’s National Book Awards, but as always, only 25 can make it all the way to the final frontier. The National Book Foundation released the list of finalists Tuesday, with five contenders chosen by a panel of five literary experts in each of five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature and Young People’s Literature.

Each finalist receives $1,000 and a bronze medal, while winners receive $10,000 (split between author and translator, in the case of the Translated Literature category), a bronze medal and a statue. Winners will be announced Wednesday, November 20th, at the National Book Awards Ceremony in New York City, which will be livestreamed via Facebook and the National Book Foundation website.

Check out the full list below, along with brief synopses provided by the Foundation. Find a new read or two (or more), and make your bets on the books that will reign supreme.


Susan Choi, Trust Exercise (Henry Holt and Company / Macmillan Publishers)
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.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Sabrina & Corina: Stories (One World / Penguin Random House)
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.

Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House)
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.

Laila Lalami, The Other Americans (Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House)
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.

Julia Phillips, Disappearing Earth (Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House)
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.



Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House (Grove Press / Grove Atlantic)
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.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick: And Other Essays (The New Press)
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.

Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press / Penguin Random House)
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.

David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House)
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.

Albert Woodfox with Leslie George, Solitary (Grove Press / Grove Atlantic)
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.



Jericho Brown, The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press)
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.”

Toi Derricotte, “I”: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press)
“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.

Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press)
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky imagines a protest where a gunshot literally deafens the populace.

Carmen Giménez Smith, Be Recorder (Graywolf Press)
In her sixth collection Be Recorder, Carmen Giménez Smith sounds a call for rebellion against American complacency and compromise.

Arthur Sze, Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press)
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.


Translated Literature

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

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

Scholastique Mukasonga, The Barefoot Woman, Translated from the French by Jordan Stump (Archipelago Books)
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.

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

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


Young People’s Literature

Akwaeke Emezi, Pet (Make Me a World / Penguin Random House)
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.

Jason Reynolds, Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Simon & Schuster)
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.

Randy Ribay, Patron Saints of Nothing (Kokila / Penguin Random House)
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.

Laura Ruby, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins Publishers)
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, 1919 The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury Children’s Books / Bloomsbury Publishing)
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.

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