2017 National Book Award Long-Lists Announced

During the week of September 11, the National Book Foundation rolled out its long lists in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature, revealing its continuing focus on diverse, of-the-moment books while reminding us how rich publishing can be these days. It’s no surprise to see National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner) and Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (Scribner) as fiction nominees, but the inclusion of Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties: Stories (Graywolf); Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s A Kind of Freedom (Counterpoint), set in 1940s–1980s Creole New Orleans; and Carol Zoref’s Barren Island (New Issues), depicting immigrant families living on a factory island in New York’s Jamaica Bay through the 1930s, brings a nod of recognition that these rewarding reads deserve the attention.

Machado’s buzzing debut story collection is nicely paired with Daniel Alarcón’s The King Is Always Above the People: Stories (Riverhead), the Granta Best of Young American Novelists/New Yorker 20 Under 40 author’s return to the genre that launched his career. Charmaine Craig’s Miss Burma (Grove) and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Grand Central) are historicals set in the Far East, while Elliot Ackerman’s Dark at the Crossing (Knopf) and Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (Algonquin) are contemporaries addressing war and immigration, respectively. But all four investigate life at the edge in an overturned world.

In keeping with nominations over the last several years, this year’s long-listed nonfiction titles focus strongly on the political moment in America. Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (37 INK: Atria), David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Doubleday), Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright: Norton), Timothy B. Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till (S. & S.), and Kevin Young’s Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf) consider past racial abuses. Young’s book argues that the hoax is a quintessentially American phenomenon and that race is the most damning hoax of all.

James Forman, Jr.’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (Farrar), Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (Haymarket), and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking) move the story forward to today’s political debates. Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle To Shape America (S. & S.) provides historical context for those debates, while Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead) is the one work providing a world view on our parlous times.

The poetry long-list includes three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Frank Bidart’s Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (Farrar), National Poetry Series winner Marie Howe’s Magdalene: Poems (Norton), National Book Critics Circle Award winner Laura Kasischke’s Where Now: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon), and previous National Book Award finalist Sherod Santos’s Square Inch Hours (Norton), all from established poets. But the long-list also shows an expansive interest in rising-star poets and, often, a contentious sensibility.

Chen Chen’s biting When I Grow Up I Want To Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, Ltd.) deals with being Asian American and gay. Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS (Graywolf Press), from a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, explores language and culture. Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press) confronts the crosscurrents of race and history, while Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems (Graywolf) includes the fierce “dear white america,” much viewed in a reading on YouTube. Mai Der Vang’s Afterland (Graywolf) addresses the fate of the Hmong during the Vietnam War. Finally, German-born Leslie Harrison’s The Book of Endings (Univ. of Akron) wraps up the list with a meditation on her mother’s death.

Finalists for the National Book Awards will be announced on October 4, and winners will be announced at the National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony, held November 15 in New York. For the Young People’s Literature long-list see “Ten Titles Make the 2017 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature.” For more information on the awards, see the National Book Foundation’s website.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. Dan Peterson says:

    Helpful site. Divorcing with children can be particularly stressful.

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