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2020 National Book Awards Finalists Announced

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Pierce Alquist

Senior Contributor

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

The National Book Foundation has announced the 2020 National Book Awards finalists! The list of finalists is already being described as fresh and timely, with “books about race and the struggle for equality feature[d] prominently” and two novels “with eerie echoes of world catastrophes.” Notably, none of the authors has been a finalist for a National Book Award before and almost a third are debuts.

The winners in each of the five categories—Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction—will be announced November 18, 2020, in a virtual ceremony. Acclaimed novelist Walter Mosley will receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Carolyn Reidy, the late Simon & Schuster CEO, will be honored with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.


Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu


The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker


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 Diaz

Translated Literature

High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann, translated by Anne Posten

The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated by Alice Menzies

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, translated by Morgan Giles

The Bitch by Pilar Quintana, translated by Lisa Dillman

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated 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

Curious about the other nominated titles? Looking for more great recommendations? Check out the 2020 National Book Awards Longlists.