Here are the finalists for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Awards

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, author of “The Undocumented Americans,” is a finalist for the NBCC's John Leonard Prize.
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, author of “The Undocumented Americans,” is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize.
(One World)

The Contenders

2020 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists

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Stories about country star Dolly Parton, activist Malcolm X, poet Sylvia Plath and the history of cheap stuff in America are among the 30 finalists chosen by the National Book Critics Circle on Sunday, covering 2020 publications in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Seven finalists were also chosen for the John Leonard Prize, awarded for the best first book in any genre. Among them are Douglas Stuart, for 2020 Booker Prize winner “Shuggie Bain,” and National Book Award finalist Karla Cornejo Villavicencio‘s “The Undocumented Americans.”

Among the NBCC finalists for fiction, only one, Randal Kenan’s “If I Had Two Wings,” was also a National Book Award nominee. The list was rounded out by work from Maggie O’Farrell, Bryan Washington, Martin Amis and Souvankham Thammavongsa.


The NBCC Awards ceremony on March 25 will be virtual, streaming on The free public event will confer the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to the longtime nonprofit Feminist Press (previous winners include Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates and PEN America); the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing will go to the New Republic critic Jo Livingstone.

Watch Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo at the L.A. Times Book Club

Dec. 15, 2020

The finalists announcement marks a turning point for the NBCC after a tumultuous summer that almost destroyed the 47-year-old organization, after the June resignation of President Laurie Hertzel and five board members amid competing allegations of racism and privacy violations.

The NBCC had been devising a statement in solidarity with protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing when an email exchange between Hertzel and board member Carlin Romano was posted on Twitter.

In an email, Romano had raised objections to the board’s proposed statement that “white gatekeepers” in publishing “stifle black voices.” He said he had seen “far more of white people helping black writers than of black people helping white writers.”

One of the remaining board members is Romano, who survived a close and contentious removal vote in August.


The full list of finalists:

Cathy Park Hong, “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning”
Shayla Lawson, “This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope”
Riva Lehrer, “Golem Girl
Wayétu Moore, “The Dragons, The Giant, The Women
Alia Volz, “Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco”

Amy Stanley, “Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World”
Zachary D. Carter, “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes”
Heather Clark, “Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath”
Les Payne, Tamara Payne, “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
Maggie Doherty, “The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s”

Nicole Fleetwood, “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration”
Namwali Serpell, “Stranger Faces
Cristina Rivera Garza, “Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country”
Vivian Gornick, “Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader”
Wendy A. Woloson, “Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America”

Martin Amis, “Inside Story
Randall Kenan, “If I Had Two Wings
Maggie O’Farrell, “Hamnet
Souvankham Thammavongsa, “How to Pronounce Knife
Bryan Washington, “Memorial

Walter Johnson, “The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States”
James Shapiro, “Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future”
Sarah Smarsh, “She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs”
Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”
Tom Zoellner, “Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire”

Victoria Chang, “Obit
Francine J. Harris, “Here Is The Sweet Hand
Amaud Jamaul Johnson, “Imperial Liquor
Chris Nealon, “The Shore
Danez Smith, “Homie


John Leonard Prize
Kerri Arsenault, “Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains”
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Undocumented Americans
Raven Leilani, “Luster
Megha Majumdar, “A Burning
Douglas Stuart, “Shuggie Bain
Brandon Taylor, “Real Life
C Pam Zhang, “How Much of These Hills Is Gold