2020 National Book Award Winners

November 19, 2020

Covers of 2020 National Book Award Winners and award seal

On November 18, the National Book Foundation presented its National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature in a virtual ceremony hosted by author Jason Reynolds.

Listed below are the winners and finalists in each category, with excerpts from the winners’ Booklist reviews (where available).

Fiction

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (winner) 

“Although the cover claims that Yu’s (Sorry Please Thank You, 2012) latest is a novel, his fiction, as always, defies easy labels. This hybrid conflates history, sociology, and ethnography with the timeless evils of racism, sexism, and elitism in a multigenerational epic that’s both rollicking entertainment and scathing commentary…. Resembling a script, complete with a classic typewriter font, Yu’s tale ingeniously draws on real-life Hollywood dead ends for Asian American actors, including, quite possibly, Kelvin Yu, the author’s younger brother.” —Terry Hong

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

Nonfiction

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

“As renewed calls for Black liberation fill the streets and the airwaves, what better time to review the legacy of one of the most influential proponents of Black independence, Malcolm X. Based on decades of interviews with family members, classmates, and associates, this monumental new biography was Les Payne’s life work, completed by his daughter and fellow researcher Tamara after Payne’s untimely death in 2018. So what distinguishes Payne’s book from other Malcolm X biographies? Payne’s Malcolm is less a revolutionary than part of a continuum of Black struggle, beginning with Malcolm’s parents and their devotion to the Black uplift of Garveyism, through the myth-making of a gloriously exotic Black ancestry found in the Moorish Science movement, a precursor to the Nation of Islam.”—Lesley Williams

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

My Autobiography of Carson McCullors by Jenn Shapland

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker

Translated Literature

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri and Morgan Giles (winner) 

“Kazu is dead, but his spirit can’t rest. As he wanders through Tokyo’s Imperial Gift Park—where he last lived as a homeless wanderer—memories, visions, and hauntings reveal his past. That his 1933 birth coincided with Emperor Akihito’s, followed by the birth of their respective sons on the same day in 1960, was supposed to be a ‘blessing,’ but tragedy repeatedly marked the decades…. Yu (Gold Rush, 2002), an ethnic Korean in Japan, is no stranger to modern society’s traps driven by nationalism, capitalism, classism, and sexism. Her anglophoned latest (gratitude to translator Giles for providing fluent accessibility) is a surreal fable of splintered families, disintegrating relationships, and the casual devaluation of humanity.”—Terry Hong

High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann and Anne Posten

The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri and Alice Menzies

The Bitch by Pilar Quintana and Lisa Dillman

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli and Elisabeth Jaquette

Young People’s Literature

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (winner) 

“This incredible middle-grade follow-up to Callender’s debut novel Hurricane Child (2018) delves into one boy’s journey to self-acceptance while wading through the profound grief that has engulfed his family. King, a Black child living by the bayous of Louisiana, is dealt the double blow of losing his beloved older brother while trying to contain an identity he is sure will cause his father to stop loving him. When his former best friend, the gay son of the local sheriff, runs away, the weight of expectations and secrets leads King to examine everything he thinks he knows about being brave, being a man, and being himself.” —Shaunterria Owens

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

When Stars are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson

The Way Back by Gavriel Savit

Poetry

DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi (winner)

A Treatise on Stars by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Fantasia for the Man in Blue by Tommye Blount

Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

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