2021 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 2021 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 (NBF), 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 and 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

Fiction

Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr
Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, this novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope, and a book.

Matrix
by Lauren Groff
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. Groff’s novel is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.

Zorrie
by Laird Hunt
After losing both her parents and her aunt, Zorrie is cast into the perilous realities of rural Depression-era Indiana. Drifting west, surviving on odd jobs, Zorrie finds a position at a radium processing plant. When Indiana calls Zorrie home, she finds the love and community that has always eluded her in and around the small town of Hillisburg, but discovers that her trials have only begun.

The Prophets
by Robert Jones, Jr.
A love story set inside a tragedy, this is the story of Samuel and Isaiah, two Black young men enslaved on a plantation in antebellum Mississippi who find love with each other and experience a betrayal that threatens their existence. Jones’s novel masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but it is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.

Hell of a Book
by Jason Mott
An African-American author sets out on a cross-country book tour to promote his best-selling novel. Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, what kind of world will he leave behind? Unforgettably told, with characters who burn in your mind, and an electrifying plot, this is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last ten years.

Non-fiction

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance
by Hanif Abdurraqiba
With sharp insight, humor, and heart, Absurraqiba examines how Black performance happens in specific moments in time and space—from midcentury Paris to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio. A Little Devil considers, critiques, and praises performances in music, sports, writing, comedy, grief, games, and love.

Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains
by Lucas Bessire
The Ogallala aquifer has nourished life on the American Great Plains for millennia. But less than a century of unsustainable irrigation farming has taxed much of the aquifer beyond repair. Bessire offers a uniquely personal account of aquifer depletion and the deeper layers through which it gains meaning and force.

Tastes Like War: A Memoir
by Grace M. Cho
Part memoir, part scoiological investigation, this is a hybrid text about a daughter’s search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia.

Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Justice in Early America
by Nicole Eustace
On the eve of a major treaty conference between Iroquois leaders and European colonists in the distant summer of 1722, two white fur traders attacked an Indigenous hunter and left him dead. An absorbing chronicle built around an extraordinary group of characters, this book transforms a single event into an unforgettable portrait of early America.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
by Tiya Miles
Miles’s book is a poignant story of resilience and of love passed down through generations of women against steep odds. It honors the creativity and resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties even when official systems refused to do so.

Poetry

What Noise Against the Cane by Desiree C. Bailey
Floaters by Martin Espada
Sho by Douglas Kearney
A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure by Hoa Nguyen
The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void by Jackie Wang

Translated Literature

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin; translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Peach Blossom Paradise by Ge Fei; translated by Canaan Morse
The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernandez; translated by Natasha Wimmer
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut; translated by Adrian Nathan West
Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek; translated by Leri Price

Young People’s Literature

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff
Revolution in Our Time by Kekla Magoon
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

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

(Images and narratives from NBF website)

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