2017 National Book Award Finalists Announced

On Wednesday, October 4, on CBS This Morning, the National Book Foundation (NBF) announced the 20 finalists for the 2017 National Book Awards (NBA) for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. The list reflects the attentiveness to diversity characterizing the publishing world in recent years, with four of the five fiction finalists by women of color—Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (Algonquin), Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Grand Central), Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties: Stories (Graywolf), and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner). In addition, the five poetry finalists included Native American Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS (Graywolf), biracial Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor (Univ. of Akron), and African American Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf).

The fiction list is rounded out by Eliot Ackerman’s Dark at the Crossing (Knopf), while poetry also embraces multi-award-winning Frank Bidart’s Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (Farrar) and second-book author Leslie Harrison’s The Book of Endings (Univ. of Akron). The nonfiction list, which includes Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (37 Ink: Atria), Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle To Shape America (S. & S.), David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Doubleday), and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking), captures a desire to understand America’s tumultuous present by looking at its past. Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead) also made the nonfiction list.

Ko, Machado, and Long Soldier are debut authors, and Ackerman, Lee, Harrison, and Smith are second-timers, but other finalists are veterans boasting numerous awards, including NBA honors: Ward is the 2011 fiction winner, Bidart a five-time finalist for poetry, and Frances FitzGerald a 1973 winner and 1980 finalist for nonfiction. The short-lists as a whole tilted slightly toward the big publishers, though Graywolf Press claimed three finalists, and in poetry all but Bidart’s title came from indie or academic presses. In addition, three-quarters of the award finalists this year are women, as are all of this year’s NBF 5 Under 35 honorees.

The 5 Under 35 honorees include Lesley Nneka Arimah (What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories, Riverhead), chosen by 2016 fiction finalist Chris Bachelder; Halle Butler (Jillian, Curbside Splendor), chosen by 2016 fiction long-listed Lydia Millet; Zinzi Clemmons (What We Lose, Viking), chosen by 2015 finalist and 5 Under 35 honoree Angela Flournoy; Leopoldine Core (When Watched: Stories, Penguin Pr.), chosen by 2016 finalist Karan Mahajan; and Weike Wang (Chemistry, Knopf), chosen by 2007 Young People’s Literature winner Sherman Alexie. Some of these writers have been honored elsewhere—Arimah received the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, for instance, and Core is a Whiting Award winner—but the 5 Under 35 honor should prove a big boost toward future writing success.

Winners of this year’s awards will be announced on Wednesday, November 15, at the 68th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In addition, two lifetime achievement awards will be presented at the Awards dinner: novelist Annie Proulx will receive the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by Anne Hathaway, while Scholastic Chair, President, and CEO Richard (Dick) Robinson will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community. The event will be livestreamed from the NBF’s homepage. For more information on the event, go to http://www.nationalbook.org/.



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.

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