Finalists announced for this year's National Book Awards

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Finalists announced for this year's National Book Awards
Lucas Bessire, “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains”

by Elizabeth A. Harris

NEW YORK, NY.- A food memoir that examines a mother’s schizophrenia. A novel about an author’s book tour, and about growing up as a Black boy in the rural South. Poetry honoring migrants who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande.

These are some of the 25 finalists for the National Book Awards, which the National Book Foundation announced on Tuesday.

In “Tastes Like War: A Memoir,” by Grace M. Cho, the author cooks her grandmother’s recipes while exploring her mother’s illness, and how war, colonialism and xenophobia live on in the body. Other nonfiction nominees include “Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America,” by Nicole Eustace, which examines the 1722 murder case of an Indigenous hunter, and “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance,” whose author, the poet Hanif Abdurraqib, received a MacArthur Fellowship last month.

The book-tour novel is “Hell of a Book,” by Jason Mott, who was joined in the fiction category by two authors who have been previously shortlisted for the National Book Award: Anthony Doerr, this time for “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” and Lauren Groff for “Matrix.” “Matrix” follows Marie de France, a “bastardess sibling of the crown,” as she transforms a destitute nunnery, all but forgotten and plagued by starvation, into a wealthy and powerful world of women.

“Bewilderment,” by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Powers, and “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, two bestselling novels that made the longlist when it was announced in September, are not among the finalists.

In the poetry category, it is Martín Espada who honors migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande in his book “Floaters.” In “What Noise Against the Cane,” Desiree C. Bailey explores the Haitian Revolution and what it means to be a Black woman in the United States today.

In the category of translated literature, Benjamín Labatut’s book “When We Cease to Understand the World” is among the finalists. Translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, the novel imagines the lives of renowned scientists like the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Its competition includes “Planet of Clay,” by Samar Yazbek, translated from Arabic by Leri Price, which follows a girl named Rima during the Syrian civil war.

“The Legend of Auntie Po,” a graphic novel by Shing Yin Khor, is a finalist for young people’s literature. The novel reimagines the story of Paul Bunyan against the backdrop of race and immigration in the period following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People,” Kekla Magoon’s book connecting the Black Panther Party to the Black Lives Matter movement, is also a finalist.

The winners in young people’s literature, translated literature, poetry, nonfiction and fiction will be announced Nov. 17 in an online ceremony.

Two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented. Writer and professor Karen Tei Yamashita will receive the foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution, and author and librarian Nancy Pearl will be given the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Below is a complete list of the finalists.


— Anthony Doerr, “Cloud Cuckoo Land”

— Lauren Groff, “Matrix”

— Laird Hunt, “Zorrie”

— Robert Jones Jr., “The Prophets”

— Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”


— Hanif Abdurraqib, “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance”

— Lucas Bessire, “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains”

— Grace M. Cho, “Tastes Like War: A Memoir”

— Nicole Eustace, “Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America”

— Tiya Miles, “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake”


— Desiree C. Bailey, “What Noise Against the Cane”

— Martín Espada, “Floaters”

— Douglas Kearney, “Sho”

— Hoa Nguyen, “A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure”

— Jackie Wang, “The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us From the Void”

Translated Literature

— Elisa Shua Dusapin, “Winter in Sokcho”

Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

— Ge Fei, “Peach Blossom Paradise”

Translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse

— Nona Fernández, “The Twilight Zone”

Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

— Benjamín Labatut, “When We Cease to Understand the World”

Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West

— Samar Yazbek, “Planet of Clay”

Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price

Young People’s Literature

— Shing Yin Khor, “The Legend of Auntie Po”

— Malinda Lo, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club”

— Kyle Lukoff, “Too Bright to See”

— Kekla Magoon, “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People”

— Amber McBride, “Me (Moth)”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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