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National Book Awards Names 2020 Nominees


Two acclaimed debut novels and a story collection whose author died last month are among the 10 fiction contenders for this year’s National Book Award.

The debut novels, which the National Book Foundation announced along with the rest of its fiction longlist on Friday, are “A Burning,” by Megha Majumdar, and “Shuggie Bain,” by Douglas Stuart, who had a particularly big week — his book was also named to the shortlist for the Booker Prize on Tuesday.

“If I Had Two Wings,” by Randall Kenan, who died at 57 in August, is one of two short story collections on the list, along with “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,” by Deesha Philyaw. Rumaan Alam’s third novel, “Leave the World Behind,” about a disconcerting family vacation set against the backdrop of an eerie societal disaster, also made the longlist, as did Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half,” about twin Black sisters who decide to take very different paths through life.

Isabel Wilkerson (“Caste”) and Jill Lepore (“If Then”) are two familiar names on the longlist for nonfiction. Claudio Saunt’s “Unworthy Republic,” about the dispossession of Native Americans, Frank B. Wilderson III’s “Afropessimism” and Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s “The Undocumented Americans” were among the nonfiction titles that also made the list. Apsny NewsBook Review called Ms. Villavicencio’s book, her first, a “captivating and evocative” mixture of memoir and reportage by one of the first undocumented students to be accepted to Harvard University.

All 10 of the writers longlisted for poetry are first-time nominees, and two of them are debut authors: Tommye Blount, whose “Fantasia for the Man in Blue” breaks up its title poem about police violence against Black people into a quartet threaded throughout the book, and Anthony Cody, whose “Borderland Apocrypha” uses elements of documentary to write about experiences at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Perumal Murugan’s “The Story of a Goat” is one of the nominees in the translated literature category. The novel, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman, is Murugan’s first since he renounced writing in 2015 after being pilloried by right-wing Hindu groups. The Times critic Parul Sehgal wrote that the new novel “examines the oppressions of caste and colorism, government surveillance, the abuse of women — all cunningly folded into the biography of an unhappy little goat.” Not among the contenders is the Dutch novelist Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s “The Discomfort of Evening,” translated by Michele Hutchison and named the winner of this year’s International Booker Prize in August.

The contenders for young people’s literature include Candice Iloh’s “Every Body Looking,” about a young woman coming of age at a historically Black college; Traci Chee’s “We Are Not Free,” about 14 teenagers affected by the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II; and “When Stars Are Scattered,” in which the Somali refugee Omar Mohamed tells his story with the help of Victoria Jamieson.

The shortlists of finalists in each category are scheduled to be announced on Oct. 6. The winners, normally announced at an event in New York City, will be unveiled this unusual year during a virtual ceremony on Nov. 18.

Below is a complete list of the 2020 nominees in all five categories.

  • Rumaan Alam, “Leave the World Behind”

  • Christopher Beha, “The Index of Self-Destructive Acts”

  • Brit Bennett, “The Vanishing Half”

  • Randall Kenan, “If I Had Two Wings”

  • Megha Majumdar, “A Burning”

  • Lydia Millet, “A Children’s Bible”

  • Deesha Philyaw, “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”

  • Douglas Stuart, “Shuggie Bain”

  • Vanessa Veselka, “The Great Offshore Grounds”

  • Charles Yu, “Interior Chinatown”

  • Michelle Bowdler, “Is Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto”

  • Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Undocumented Americans”

  • Jill Lepore, “If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future”

  • 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”

  • Jonathan C. Slaght, “Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl”

  • Jerald Walker, “How to Make a Slave and Other Essays”

  • Frank B. Wilderson III, “Afropessimism”

  • Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

  • Rick Barot, “The Galleons”

  • Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, “A Treatise on Stars”

  • Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, “Travesty Generator”

  • Tommye Blount, “Fantasia for the Man in Blue”

  • Victoria Chang, “Obit”

  • Don Mee Choi, “DMZ Colony”

  • Anthony Cody, “Borderland Apocrypha”

  • Eduardo C. Corral, “Guillotine”

  • Natalie Diaz, “Postcolonial Love Poem”

  • Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, “The Age of Phillis”

  • Shokoofeh Azar, “The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree”
    Translated from the Persian by Anonymous

  • Linda Boström Knausgård, “The Helios Disaster”
    Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles

  • 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

  • Fernanda Melchor, “Hurricane Season”
    Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

  • Yu Miri, “Tokyo Ueno Station”
    Translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles

  • Perumal Murugan, “The Story of a Goat”
    Translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman

  • Cho Nam-Joo, “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982”
    Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang

  • Pilar Quintana, “The Bitch”
    Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman

  • Adania Shibli, “Minor Detail”
    Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette

  • Kacen Callender, “King and the Dragonflies”

  • Traci Chee, “We Are Not Free”

  • Evette Dionne, “Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box”

  • Eric Gansworth, “Apple (Skin to the Core)”

  • Candice Iloh, “Every Body Looking”

  • Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, “When Stars Are Scattered”

  • Marcella Pixley, “Trowbridge Road”

  • John Rocco, “How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure”

  • Gavriel Savit, “The Way Back”

  • Aiden Thomas, “Cemetery Boys”

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