National Book Award Shortlist Announced

Seabrookers are readers and it is likely many of you have read or at least heard of the books that made this year’s National Book Award shortlist. You can check the list below to see if any of your 2020 favorites made the cut.

In 1950, the National Book Awards were established to celebrate the best writing in America. Since 1989, they have been overseen by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.” The categories include Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature.

Each year, the Foundation assembles twenty-five distinguished writers, translators, critics, librarians, and booksellers to judge the National Book Awards. These judges select a Longlist of ten titles per category, this year announced the week of September 14. The list is then narrowed to five Finalists, announced this year on October 6. A winner in each category will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in November.

The Finalists


Leave the World Behind
by Rumaan Alam
A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.

A Children’s Bible

by Lydia Millet
Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet’s sublime new novel—her first since the National Book Award Longlisted Sweet Lamb of Heaven—follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
by Deesha Philyaw
The author explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.

Shuggie Bain
by Douglas Stuart
This is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings.

Interior Chinatown
by Charles Yu
Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely Generic Asian man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop. Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.


The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
by Les Payne and Tamara Payne
In tracing Malcolm X’s life from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his Harlem assassination in 1965, Payne provides searing vignettes culled from Malcolm’s Depression-era youth, describing the influence of his Garveyite parents: his father, Earl, a circuit-riding preacher who was run over by a streetcar in Lansing, Michigan, in 1929, and his mother, Louise, who continued to instill black pride in her children after Earl’s death. Filling each chapter with resonant drama, Payne follows Malcolm’s exploits as a petty criminal in Boston and Harlem in the 1930s and early 1940s to his religious awakening and conversion to the Nation of Islam in a Massachusetts penitentiary.

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory
by Claudio Saunt
In May 1830, the United States formally launched a policy to expel Native Americans from the East to territories west of the Mississippi River. Justified as a humanitarian enterprise, the undertaking was to be systematic and rational, overseen by Washington’s small but growing bureaucracy. But as the policy unfolded over the next decade, thousands of Native Americans died under the federal government’s auspices, and thousands of others lost their possessions and homelands.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers
by Jenn Shapland
In genre-defying vignettes, Shapland interweaves her own story with Carson McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of America’s most beloved writers, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.

The Undocumented Americans
by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants—and to find the hidden key to her own.

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays
by Jerald Walker
Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male.


A Treatise on Stars by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Fantasia for the Man in Blue by Tommye Blount
DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi
Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diz

Translated Literature

High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann; translated from the German by Anne Posten
The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri; translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri; translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
The Bitch by Pilar Quintana; translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
Minor Detail by Adania Shibli; translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette

Young People’s Literature

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
The Way Back by Gavriel Savit

For more information on the finalists, the foundation, and the awards, click here. To see the full list and what NPR says about them, click here.

Tidelines Editors

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