2020 National Book Awards finalists focus on BIPOC life, urgent issues


This year’s National Book Awards finalists suit the current moment to a tee.

Featuring stories about climate change, police violence against Black people and queer love stories, 25 works were chosen by the National Book Foundation on Tuesday in five categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature and young people’s literature. Among the finalists are two writers previously recognized by the foundation — Lydia Millet, who made the awards longlist in 2016, and Charles Yu, a 2007 “5 Under 35” honoree. Eight of the 25 finalists are first-time authors.

The author, most recently, of “Interior Chinatown” opts for “Independence Day,” a slew of inspiring novels, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Ozark.”

May 5, 2020

When The Times asked authors to track what they do in isolation back in May, Yu wrote a “quarantine diary” for the paper. “Words bring us together, and that social cohesion is what we will need to get through the coming months,” he wrote. “(That and ‘Ozark.’)”

Yu’s most recent book, “Interior Chinatown” — a “portrait of Asian American identity” — is among the 2020 fiction finalists. Joining him are authors Rumaan Alam, Lydia Millet, Deesha Philyaw and Douglas Stuart, for work on everything from the multifaceted lives of Black women to the concept of safety in a time of global danger.


Rumaan Alam’s “Leave the World Behind” starts as satire and becomes the anatomy of “normal” life during global disaster — and a dire warning to us all.

Oct. 2, 2020

Reviewing Alam’s novel “Leave the World Behind” for The Times, critic Mary Ann Gwinn called it “one of the saddest and most gripping books you will ever read.”

The National Book Awards ceremony will go virtual this year on Nov. 18, streaming on YouTube and the Foundation’s website, The event will award two lifetime achievement honors: Walter Mosley will be recognized with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and Carolyn Reidy will posthumously receive the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Carolyn Reidy, the late president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, will receive the Literarian Award, the National Book Foundation announced today.

Sept. 8, 2020

See the full list of finalists below.

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”

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Undocumented Americans”
Les Payne and Tamara Payne, “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X”
Claudio Saunt, “Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory”
Jenn Shapland, “My Autobiography of Carson McCullers”
Jerald Walker, “How to Make a Slave and Other Essays”

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”

Translated literature
Anja Kampmann, “High as the Waters Rise”
Jonas Hassen Khemiri, “The Family Clause”
Yu Miri, “Tokyo Ueno Station”
Pilar Quintana, “The Bitch”
Adania Shibli, “Minor Detail”

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”