National Book Awards Names 2020 Nominees

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Fiction contenders include Brit Bennett, the author of “The Vanishing Half”; Randall Kenan, a beloved writer who died in August; and Douglas Stuart, a debut novelist who is also a Booker Prize finalist.

Credit...From left: Daniel Dorsa for The New York Times; John L. Blom; via Fernanda Melchor; via John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

John Williams

Sept. 18, 2020, 10:15 a.m. ET

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. The New York Times Book 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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