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36 African-American Nominees for National Book Awards

November 11, 2015 Update: A complete list of National Book Award Honorees, of African descent, is now available.


The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.  Since 1996, independent panels of five writers have chosen the National Book Award winners in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.

This year’s panelists include; Sharon Draper, who chairs the Young People’s Literature panel of judges; and Ruth Simmons, the first Black president of Brown University, who serves as a Nonfiction judge.

Since 2001 there have been 35 African-American nominees for National Book Awards. is very proud to recognize these authors as they, along was so many others not recognized here, represent the best of American literature.

Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (Poetry) – Finalist
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Poetry) – Finalist
Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

Troy’s Note: I’ll go on record and predict a win for Woodson. UPDATE: Woodson did go on to win the award!

James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (Fiction) – Winner
Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke (Poetry) – Finalist
Roger Bonair-Agard, Bury My Clothes (Poetry) – Longlist
Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince (Young People’s Literature) Longlist

Check out’s coverage of the 2013 National Book Awards

Junot Diaz, This is How You Lose Her (Fiction) – Finalist
Tim Seibles, Fast Animal (Poetry) – Finalist

Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (Fiction) – Winner
Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Nonfiction) – Finalist
Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split (Poetry) – Winner
Yusef Kamunyakaa, The Chameleon Counch (Poetry) – Finalist

On Nikky Finney’s acceptance speech for the Poetry Award, John Litgow said, “That was the best acceptance speech for anything I’ve ever heard in my life.” I would agree.

Terrance Hayes, Lighthead (Poetry) – Winner
Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist
Rita Williams Garcia, One Crazy Summer (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Poetry) – Finalist
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (Poetry) – Finalist
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jump (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses on Monticello (Nonfiction) – Winner
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Poetry) – Finalist

Edwidge Danicat, Brother, I’m Dying (Nonfiction) – Finalist
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist


Nathaniel Mackey, Splay Anthem (Poetry) – Winner

Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

Carl Phillips, The Rest of Love (Poetry) Finalist
Sheila P. Moses, The Legend of Buddy Bush (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

Edward P. Jones, The Known World (Fiction) – Finalist
Kevin Young, Jelly Roll: A Blues (Poetry) – Finalist
Jacqueline Woodson, Locomotion (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist


Harryette Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary, (Poetry) – Finalist
Jacqueline Woodson, Hush (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

Wanda Coleman, Mercurochrome, (Poetry) – Finalist
Cornelius Eady, Brutal Imagination (Poetry) – Finalist
Marilyn Nelson, Carver: A Life in Poems (Young People’s Literature) – Finalist

invisible-manThe first annual National Book Awards were presented on March 16, 1950.  The first African American winner was Ralph Waldo Ellison (1953) for his novel, Invisible Man.

Thanks to Sherrie Young, the National Book Foundation’s Director of Marketing and Special Projects, for her support in compiling this information.

Troy Johnson

This list is now being updated on our website.


Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.