The list includes Rumaan Alam and Jenn Shapland.
On Tuesday, the National Book Foundation announced the 2020 finalists for the National Book Awards. This year’s finalists for the five awards include Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind in the fiction category and Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers in the nonfiction category.
Notably, some of the year’s buzziest literary fiction from the Big Five trade publishing houses — including books like The Vanishing Half and Luster — didn’t make it to the final round. Instead, the list of 25 finalists (which is decided by a rotating panel of 25 judges, this year including Roxane Gay) draws heavily from small press books. And although university presses often show up in the nonfiction category, Deesha Philyaw’s novel The Secret Lives of Church Ladies comes from West Virginia University Press, meaning we get the unusual sight of a small university press book in the fiction finals.
The 2020 NBA finalists will be the last books shepherded through the publishing industry’s awards season by outgoing National Book Foundation executive director Lisa Lucas. Lucas, who joined the National Book Foundation in 2016 as the first person of color at its head, has overseen a massive jump in both the foundation’s national profile and the number of books by authors of color that it honors. In interviews, she’s copped to intentionally working to make the awards a big deal — she’s said that she wants to make them like the Oscars — but she has always denied that she’s actively worked to diversify the awards’ shortlist. “It’s not a concerted effort,” she told Vanity Fair in 2017. “We’re not trying to do that and we’re not trying not to do that either, we’re just picking great judges.”
Lucas is leaving the National Book Foundation to work as senior vice president and publisher of the two literary imprints Pantheon and Schocken Books. “I always joke that I’m like a house renovator,” she told the New York Times after the news of her move broke. “You go into a classic old beautiful house that’s totally fine, and you figure out how to bring it into the future and make sure it’s steady and strong and modern. The idea is loving tradition but also loving the future.”
The winners of this year’s National Book Awards will be announced on Wednesday, November 18, in an online ceremony. Here is the full list of finalists.
Finalists for Fiction
Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind
Lydia Millet, A Children’s Bible
Deesha Philyaw, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain
Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown
Finalists for Nonfiction
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans
Les Payne and Tamara Payne, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
Jenn Shapland, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers
Jerald Walker, How to Make a Slave and Other Essays
Finalists for Poetry
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, A Treatise on Stars
Tommye Blount, Fantasia for the Man in Blue
Don Mee Choi, DMZ Colony
Anthony Cody, Borderland Apocrypha
Natalie Diaz, Postcolonial Love Poem
Finalists for Translated Literature
Anja Kampmann, High as the Waters Rise. Translated from the German by Anne Posten
Jonas Hassen Khemiri, The Family Clause. Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies
Yu Miri, Tokyo Ueno Station. Translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
Pilar Quintana, The Bitch. Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
Adania Shibli, Minor Detail. Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette
Finalists for Young People’s Literature
Kacen Callender, King and the Dragonflies
Traci Chee, We Are Not Free
Candice Iloh, Every Body Looking
Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered
Gavriel Savit, The Way Back
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Author: Constance Grady