Books Honored by the National Book Awards
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.
The first African-American writer to win a National Book Award was Ralph Ellison for Invisible Man.
9 Books Honored by the National Book Awards in 2018
Winner - Nonfiction
The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke
by Jeffrey C. Stewart
Publication Date: Feb 01, 2018
List Price: $39.95
Page Count: 944
Imprint: Oxford University Press
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Parent Company: University of Oxford
Alain Locke a tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro — the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.”
In The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Jeffrey C. Stewart offers the definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance, based on the extant primary sources of his life and on interviews with those who knew him personally. He narrates the education of Locke, including his becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar and earning a PhD in philosophy at Harvard University, and his long career as a professor at Howard University. Locke also received a cosmopolitan, aesthetic education through his travels in continental Europe, where he came to appreciate the beauty of art and experienced a freedom unknown to him in the United States. And yet he became most closely associated with the flowering of Black culture in Jazz Age America and his promotion of the literary and artistic work of African Americans as the quintessential creations of American modernism. In the process he looked to Africa to find the proud and beautiful roots of the race. Shifting the discussion of race from politics and economics to the arts, he helped establish the idea that Black urban communities could be crucibles of creativity.
Stewart explores both Locke’s professional and private life, including his relationships with his mother, his friends, and his white patrons, as well as his lifelong search for love as a gay man. Stewart’s thought-provoking biography recreates the worlds of this illustrious, enigmatic man who, in promoting the cultural heritage of Black people, became — in the process — a New Negro himself.
Locke represents a biographical challenge of unusual difficulty. Superbly educated, dazzlingly intelligent, psychologically complicated, and a cultural analyst and visionary whose books and essays helped to shape our understanding of race and modern American culture, Locke could also be petty and vindictive, manipulative and cruel. Also stamping his identity was his brave commitment to living fully as a gay man, despite its various dangers. Jeffrey Stewart, rising superbly to this challenge, has given us one of the finest literary biographies to appear in recent years.”Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University
Winner - Young People’s Literature
A National Book Award Longlist title! Fans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing New York Times-bestselling novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
Winner - Poetry
by Justin Phillip Reed
Publication Date: May 08, 2018
List Price: $16.95
Page Count: 112
Imprint: Coffee House Press
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Parent Company: Coffee House Press
Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry
Finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry
BCALA 2019 Honor Best Poetry Award winner
Library Journal, "Best Books 2018"
"Reed’s visceral and teasingly cerebral debut probes black identity, sexuality, and violence and is inseparably personal and political. He displays a searing sense of injustice about dehumanizing systems, and his speakers evoke the quotidian with formidable eloquence . . ." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[Reed’s] poems take up the body in desire and violence, and they do so by thrusting the reader into a stark visceral encounter with their material." —The New York Times
"Raw, nervy, reverberant, densely packed language whose import simply can’t be reduced to easy explanation . . . One-of-a-kind brilliant." —Library Journal
"Indecency made me stand up and applaud." —The Millions
"Reed’s poems are formally inventive, especially when he works in concrete ways on the page. . . . The reader winds up in a new place without realizing they were being moved there." —The Rumpus
"A poignant, searing book." —Entertainment Weekly
"Rich with musical echoes and sonic ironies." —Vulture
"Reed’s wit and formal experimentation, quicksilver and luminous, shows the world as it is, while detailing how the very people that society most devalues, demeans, and seeks to destroy are its true visionaries." —The Adroit Journal
"Reed wrestles with finding the language to convey the pain of that double oppression and still manages to create terrible beauty." —Signature
"Reed’s love of language is ever-present in his joyful play with words throughout his poetry." —The Root
"In his debut poetry collection, Indecency, [Reed] wrestles with self-perception, intimacy, and placement." —St. Louis Magazine
"An unflinching exploration of power, race, sexuality, gender, the personal and the political." —Vox
"Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful―the author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us." —The Rumpus
"As we grapple with issues of equity and inclusion, insights that Reed invokes are essential. They expose a treacherous legacy, an inheritance we all must own." —The Manitou Messenger
"Within the containment of mostly invented forms, Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency is the ’carnal weight’ I’ve longed for in poetry. It’s the guttural dream of utterance that strokes and pokes the body. Reed’s deft craft is so rare, so precise, and driven by language whose surface is texture like teeth, that it seems like freed speech into the ache of repressive histories, white gazes, and uninvited invasions. Violence in Reed’s hands is no longer a thing somewhere out there but is inside the heart, as close as any black desire. Indecency is the new duende. It is like no other book I’ve read; Reed is an extraordinary talent." —Dawn Lundy Martin
"In this gorgeous first collection, there is no separation of sound from the language it travels in, from the body that produces it, from the experience that evokes it. Justin Phillip Reed achieves an impressive unity of form and content, never obscuring meaning in its varied violences inside the poems’ luxuriant unfolding—the ’absent-present’ rich with tough phantoms and the fragile living, and underneath: an unwillingness to buckle under unwanted and unasked-for burdens. In conversation with Frank O’Hara and Dawn Lundy Martin, with Michael Brown and Ezell Ford, with Ralph Ellison and Harryette Mullen, with the named and unnamed populace who understand sufferance but also resilience, pain but also sweetness, Indecency is a refusal of pretense, a celebration of possibilities within human complexity—and the hard-earned freedom inextricable from the public and private histories from which it is wrought." —Khadijah Queen
"Don’t avert: Justin Phillip Reed demands we witness that who’s missing was taken, who fell was dropped, and who died was murdered. Witness, too, that who done it will claim everything but responsibility. That obscenity drives the poet to fracture language into the exquisite shrapnel of lyric paroxysms, leaves a ’body / . . . deboned of its irony.’ That indecency triggered these devastating poems. Fuck what they claim; here’s what Reed has seen." —Douglas Kearney
"It would be a mistake, in heeding Reed’s outrage and his sense of urgency (and heed it we should) to hurry past the beauty in these poems, of which there is plenty to be found: potent word play, intricate rhyme, and stray lines like ’a smeared sweet on his cheek in the parenthesis of a grin’ or ’the dense streets clapped into a quick-descended stillness.’" —Assignment
Praise for Justin Phillip Reed:
"More than their beauty, what the poems of A History of Flamboyance flaunt is their insistence, a restless and, finally, necessary intellectual rigor that demands as much from the reader as it will delight and trouble her. But don’t be tricked in thinking these are consequently too-stiffened poems, lacking blood. There’s blood moving in every line of Reed’s poems, and there’s nerve, which is only to say that here is also honest if sometimes painful feeling, vulnerability articulated with power. If these poems are confessions, then Reed’s many formal interventions mean to break up, down or apart, reveal and revise, perhaps, the performance of those confessions, an effort to expose their inner makings, motives, our histories, these ’constructed rituals’ of shame and desire. I’d say this fits a mind that seems at turns insatiable, wanting more of our world and of the poem; at other times more reserved, wanting less; but at all times is a mind nevertheless committed to the poem’s queerest possibility, evoking its many traditions just as it disrupts or rewrites them. So these poems teach me. Justin Phillip Reed is a productive new voice in contemporary poetry, ’rose up like a hard new fact, ’ and one that feels in every way as irrefutable." —Rickey Laurentiis
"To be re-born inside these poems of chasm is a rigor not quietly undertaken. Justin Phillip Reed undoes the sonnet’s deep organization with the violent abandon of a boy become object in the stink of rapture. A ripping of form occurs. A cataclysm of self. And what do we find in these body ruins? I, for one, hear the hunt of masculine desire beating through—familiar, a known place—calling like a rustling of trees in night’s black thought. These poems at once trouble this bringing forth and grieve the ’softness’ become ’satchel.’ Indeed, how do we ever re-gather ourselves? When I read these poems by Reed, I’m left energized, bereft, and altered. They will forever live in my imagination." —Dawn Lundy Martin
Finalist - Poetry
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
by Terrance Hayes
Publication Date: Jun 19, 2018
List Price: $18.00
Page Count: 112
Imprint: Penguin Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC
A powerful, timely, dazzling collection of sonnets from one of America’s most acclaimed poets, Terrance Hayes, the National Book Award winning author of Lighthead
In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares. Inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered—the wonders of this new collection are irreducible and stunning.
Finalist - Young People’s Literature
The Journey of Little Charlie
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Publication Date: Jan 30, 2018
List Price: $16.99
Page Count: 256
Imprint: Scholastic Press
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Parent Company: Scholastic Inc.
Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His sharecropper father just died and Cap’n Buck — the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina — has come to collect a debt. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal with Cap’n Buck and agrees to track down some folks accused of stealing from the cap’n and his boss. It’s not too bad of a bargain for Charlie… until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers their true identities. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move — and soon. It’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Buck catches on.
Finalist - Fiction
Heads of the Colored People: Stories
by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
- 1 Time AALBC.com Bestselling Book!
- Selected for 1 Book Club’s Reading List
- An NAACP Image Award Honored Book
Publication Date: Jan 22, 2019
List Price: $16.00
Page Count: 224
Imprint: Atria / 37 Ink
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Parent Company: CBS Corporation
This “vivid, fast, funny, way-smart, and verbally inventive” (George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo) collection of stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.
A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes “stuffed with invention” (Publishers Weekly).
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. “Heads of the Colored People is a necessary and powerful new collection with, thankfully, not a dull sentence to be found” (Peter Orner, author of Am I Alone Here?). Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Thompson-Spires’s collection “cements her role as an incredibly important voice in literature right now” (PopSugar).
Finalist - Fiction
In the nine expansive, searching stories of A Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A teen intent on proving himself a man through the all-night revel of J’Ouvert can’t help but look out for his impressionable younger brother. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.
Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class―where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.
Longlist - Fiction
An American Marriage: A Novel
by Tayari Jones
- 1 Time AALBC.com Bestselling Book!
- Selected for 3 Book Clubs’s Reading Lists
- An NAACP Image Award Honored Book
- 2019 BCALA Literary Award
Publication Date: Feb 06, 2018
List Price: $26.95
Page Count: 320
Imprint: Algonquin Books
Publisher: Workman Publishing Co., Inc.
Parent Company: Workman Publishing Co., Inc.
Read Tayari’s, “Notes on “Quotes” from An American Marriage”
An American Marriage is the newest Oprah’s Book Club selection!
Thank you, Oprah, for extending your hand to me and my new novel, An American Marriage. I am honored to join your book club and connect hearts and minds by raising our voices and telling our stories.”
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.
Longlist - Poetry
Monument: Poems New and Selected
by Natasha Trethewey
Publication Date: Nov 06, 2018
List Price: $26.00
Page Count: 208
Imprint: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Parent Company: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry
“[Trethewey’s poems] dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.” —James H. Billington, 13th Librarian of Congress
Layering joy and urgent defiance—against physical and cultural erasure, against white supremacy whether intangible or graven in stone—Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and witness to unsung icons. Monument, Trethewey’s first retrospective, draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina. Through the collection, inlaid and inextricable, winds the poet’s own family history of trauma and loss, resilience and love.
In this setting, each section, each poem drawn from an “opus of classics both elegant and necessary,”* weaves and interlocks with those that come before and those that follow. As a whole, Monument casts new light on the trauma of our national wounds, our shared history. This is a poet’s remarkable labor to source evidence, persistence, and strength from the past in order to change the very foundation of the vocabulary we use to speak about race, gender, and our collective future.
*Academy of American Poets’ chancellor Marilyn Nelson