National Book Award finalists announced - nonfiction, young people's literature, and translated literature

Chris Schluep on October 10, 2019
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The finalists for the National Book Award were announced this week. The winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 20 at the 70th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, hosted by LeVar Burton, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented at the awards dinner: Edmund White will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by John Waters, and Oren J. Teicher will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, presented by Ann Patchett.

Publishers submitted a total of 1,712 books for this year’s National Book Awards: 397 in Fiction, 600 in Nonfiction, 245 in Poetry, 145 in Translated Literature, and 325 in Young People’s Literature. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential.

The finalists in nonfiction, young people's literature, and translated literature are below. Here are the finalists in fiction and poetry.



Here are the finalists in nonfiction:


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The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

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.



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Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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.



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What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché

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.



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The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, 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.



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Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George

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.



Here are the finalists in young people's literature:



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Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

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.



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Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds

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.



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Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

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.



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Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

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.


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1919 The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler

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.




Here are the finalists in translated literature:


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Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai

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.



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Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

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.


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The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga

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.



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The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

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.



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Crossing by Pajtim Statovci

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.






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