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Finalists for the 2020 National Book Awards unveiled

Twenty-five nominees were chosen from nearly 1,700 submissions. Winners for each of the five categories will be announced as part of a virtual ceremony on Nov. 18.

Stock image courtesy of Wix

The finalist list for the 2020 National Book Awards was announced Tuesday. Twenty-five books were chosen for five total categories — poetry, nonfiction, fiction, young people’s literature and translated literature — with five titles nominated per category.

None of the authors with works selected to the finalist list have previously been nominated for a National Book Award. Finalists will each receive $1,000, and the winners, who will be unveiled on Nov. 18 as part of a virtual ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be winners of $10,000, with the cash prize being split between the translator and author in the translated literature category.

Presented by the National Book Foundation, the finalists were selected from a pool of nearly 1,700 submissions. As part of the Nov. 18 festivities, two lifetime achievement prizes will be presented. Novelist and crime fiction writer Walter Mosley will be the recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and Carolyn Reidy, who was chief executive officer of Simon & Schuster, will be posthumously honored with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Reidy died of a heart attack this past May and had been with Simon & Schuster since 1992. She became chief executive officer of the press in 2008.

The first National Book Awards ceremony was held in New York City at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1950, with the American Book Publishers Council, the Book Manufacturers’ Institute and the American Booksellers Association spearheading the event. The National Book Foundation was created in 1989 as a not-for-profit organization to oversee the awards with the mission of increasing readership and appreciation of writing in the United States, according to the organization’s website.

Lisa Lucas has been Executive Director of the National Book Foundation since 2016, though it was announced over the summer that Lucas is leaving that role to become publisher at Pantheon and Schocken Books, which are imprints of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Lucas has been the first Black woman to hold the executive director post with the National Book Foundation.

Below is a breakdown of the finalist books, listed alphabetically by author last name.


“A Treatise on Stars” by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions)

“Fantasia for the Man in Blue” by Tommye Blount (Four Way)

“DMZ Colony” by Don Mee Choi (Wave)

“Borderland Apocrypha” by Anthony Cody (Omnidawn)

“Postcolonial Love Poem” by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf)


“The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (One World)

“The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright)

“Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory” by Claudio Saunt (W.W. Norton)

“My Autobiography of Carson McCullers” by Jenn Shapland (Tin House)

“How to Make a Slave and Other Essays” by Jerald Walker (Mad Creek)


“Leave the World Behind” Rumaan Alam (Ecco)

“A Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet (W.W. Norton)

“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia University Press)

“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart (Grove)

“Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Young People’s Literature

“King and the Dragonflies” by Kacen Callender (Scholastic)

“We Are Not Free” by Traci Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“Every Body Looking” by Candice Iloh (Dutton Books for Young Readers)

“When Stars Are Scattered” by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial Books for Young Readers)

“The Way Back” by Gavriel Savit (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Translated Literature

“High as the Waters Rise” by Anja Kampmann, translated from the German by Anne Posten (Catapult)

“The Family Clause” by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies (FSG)

“Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri, translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles (Riverhead)

“The Bitch” by Pilar Quintana, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (World Editions)

“Minor Detail,” by Adania Shibli, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (New Directions)



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