Books Honored by the National Book Foundation

National Book Award Medals

The mission of the National Book Foundation is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America. National Book Awards are given five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature.

The first African-American writer to win a National Book Award was Ralph Ellison for Invisible Man.

Check Out AALBC’s Coverage of the National Book Awards:  20172016201520142013


12 Books Honored by the National Book Foundation in 2020

Longlist - Fiction

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett

Publication Date:
List Price: $27.00
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9780525536291
Imprint: Riverhead Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Read a Description of The Vanishing Half


Book Description: 
From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

Longlist - Fiction

If I Had Two Wings: Stories
by Randall Kenan

    Publication Date:
    List Price: $25.95
    Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
    Classification: Fiction
    ISBN13: 9781324005469
    Imprint: W. W. Norton & Company
    Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
    Parent Company: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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    Read a Description of If I Had Two Wings: Stories


    Book Description: 

    In Kenan’s fictional territory of Tims Creek, North Carolina, an old man rages in his nursing home, a parson beats up an adulterer, a rich man is haunted by a hog, and an elderly woman turns unwitting miracle worker. A retired plumber travels to Manhattan, where Billy Idol sweeps him into his entourage. An architect who lost his famous lover to AIDS reconnects with a high-school fling. Howard Hughes seeks out the woman who once cooked him butter beans.

    Shot through with humor and seasoned by inventiveness and maturity, Kenan riffs on appetites of all kinds, on the eerie persistence of history, and on unstoppable lovers and unexpected salvations. If I Had Two Wings is a rich chorus of voices and visions, dreams and prophecies, marked by physicality and spirit. Kenan’s prose is nothing short of wondrous.


    Longlist - Fiction

    The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
    by Deesha Philyaw

      Publication Date:
      List Price: $18.99
      Format: Paperback, 192 pages
      Classification: Fiction
      ISBN13: 9781949199734
      Imprint: Unnamed Press
      Publisher: Unnamed Press
      Parent Company: Unnamed Press
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      Read a Description of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies


      Book Description: 

      The nine stories in The Secret Lives of Church Ladies feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.

      With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be…


      Longlist - Nonfiction

      How to Make a Slave and Other Essays
      by Jerald Walker

        Publication Date:
        List Price: $19.95
        Format: Paperback, 152 pages
        Classification: Nonfiction
        ISBN13: 9780814255995
        Imprint: Mad Creek Books
        Publisher: Ohio University Press
        Parent Company: Ohio University
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        Read a Description of How to Make a Slave and Other Essays


        Book Description: 
        For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, "anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline." It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance. Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male. Walker refuses to lull his readers; instead his missives urge them to do better as they consider, through his eyes, how to be a good citizen, how to be a good father, how to live, and how to love.

        Longlist - Nonfiction

        Afropessimism
        by Frank B. Wilderson III

          Publication Date:
          List Price: $29.95
          Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
          Classification: Nonfiction
          ISBN13: 9781631496141
          Imprint: Liveright Publishing Corporation
          Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
          Parent Company: Liveright Publishing Corporation
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          Read a Description of Afropessimism


          Book Description: 

          Why does race seem to color almost every feature of our moral and political universe? Why does a perpetual cycle of slavery—in all its political, intellectual, and cultural forms—continue to define the Black experience? And why is anti-Black violence such a predominant feature not only in the United States but around the world? These are just some of the compelling questions that animate Afropessimism, Frank B. Wilderson III’s seminal work on the philosophy of Blackness.

          Combining precise philosophy with a torrent of memories, Wilderson presents the tenets of an increasingly prominent intellectual movement that sees Blackness through the lens of perpetual slavery. Drawing on works of philosophy, literature, film, and critical theory, he shows that the social construct of slavery, as seen through pervasive anti-Black subjugation and violence, is hardly a relic of the past but the very engine that powers our civilization, and that without this master-slave dynamic, the calculus bolstering world civilization would collapse. Unlike any other disenfranchised group, Wilderson argues, Blacks alone will remain essentially slaves in the larger Human world, where they can never be truly regarded as Human beings, where, "at every scale of abstraction, violence saturates Black life."

          And while Afropessimism delivers a formidable philosophical account of being Black, it is also interwoven with dramatic set pieces, autobiographical stories that juxtapose Wilderson’s seemingly idyllic upbringing in mid-century Minneapolis with the abject racism he later encounters—whether in late 1960s Berkeley or in apartheid South Africa, where he joins forces with the African National Congress. Afropessimism provides no restorative solution to the hatred that abounds; rather, Wilderson believes that acknowledging these historical and social conditions will result in personal enlightenment about the reality of our inherently racialized existence.

          Radical in conception, remarkably poignant, and with soaring flights of lyrical prose, Afropessimism reverberates with wisdom and painful clarity in the fractured world we inhabit. It positions Wilderson as a paradigmatic thinker and as a twenty-first-century inheritor of many of the African American literary traditions established in centuries past.


          Longlist - Nonfiction

          Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
          by Isabel Wilkerson

          Publication Date:
          List Price: $32.00
          Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
          Classification: Nonfiction
          ISBN13: 9780593230251
          Imprint: Random House
          Publisher: Penguin Random House
          Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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          Read a Description of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents


          Book Description: 
          The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

          "[Caste] should be at the top of every American’s reading list."—Chicago Tribune

          "As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not."

          In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

          Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

          Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.

          Longlist - Nonfiction

          The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
          by Les Payne

            Publication Date:
            List Price: $35.00
            Format: Hardcover, 640 pages
            Classification: Nonfiction
            ISBN13: 9781631491665
            Imprint: Liveright Publishing Corporation
            Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
            Parent Company: Liveright Publishing Corporation
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            Read a Description of The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X


            Book Description: 

            “Les Payne’s The Dead Are Arising is a brilliant and indispensable depic tion of the life of Malcolm X. Payne, one of America’s most acclaimed journalists, is at the very top of his game in these pages, using the fruits of decades of interviews to bring new information and perspectives on one of the most fascinating, and often misunderstood, figures in American history.’ —Annette Gordon-Reed, professor of history, Harvard University, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

            Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X—all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.

            The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures "from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary."

            In tracing Malcolm X’s life from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his Harlem assassination in 1965, Payne provides searing vignettes culled from Malcolm’s Depression-era youth, describing the influence of his Garveyite parents: his father, Earl, a circuit-riding preacher who was run over by a street car in Lansing, Michigan, in 1929, and his mother, Louise, who continued to instill black pride in her children after Earl’s death. Filling each chapter with resonant drama, Payne follows Malcolm’s exploits as a petty criminal in Boston and Harlem in the 1930s and early 1940s to his religious awakening and conversion to the Nation of Islam in a Massachusetts penitentiary.

            With a biographer’s unwavering determination, Payne corrects the historical record and delivers extraordinary revelations—from the unmasking of the mysterious NOI founder “Fard Muhammad,” who preceded Elijah Muhammad; to a hair-rising scene, conveyed in cinematic detail, of Malcolm and Minister Jeremiah X Shabazz’s 1961 clandestine meeting with the KKK; to a minute-by-minute account of Malcolm X’s murder at the Audubon Ballroom.

            Introduced by Payne’s daughter and primary researcher, Tamara Payne, who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography, The Dead Are Arising is a penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.


            Longlist - Poetry

            The Age of Phillis
            by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

              Publication Date:
              List Price: $26.95
              Format: Hardcover, 200 pages
              Classification: Poetry
              ISBN13: 9780819579492
              Imprint: Wesleyan University Press
              Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
              Parent Company: Wesleyan University
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              Read a Description of The Age of Phillis


              Book Description: Poems imagine the life and times of Phillis Wheatley

              In 1773, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry that challenged Western prejudices about African and female intellectual capabilities. Based on fifteen years of archival research, The Age of Phillis, by award-winning writer Honoée Fanonne Jeffers, imagines the life and times of Wheatley: her childhood in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, and her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters. Woven throughout are poems about Wheatley’s "age"—the era that encompassed political, philosophical, and religious upheaval, as well as the transatlantic slave trade. For the first time in verse, Wheatley’s relationship to black people and their individual "mercies" is foregrounded, and here we see her as not simply a racial or literary symbol, but a human being who lived and loved while making her indelible mark on history.

              mothering #1
              Yaay, Someplace in the Gambia, c. 1753

              after
              the after-birth
              is delivered
              the mother stops
              holding her breath
              the mid-wife gives
              what came before
              her just-washed pain
              her insanity pain
              an undeserved pain
              a God-given pain
              oh oh oh pain
              drum-talking pain
              witnessing pain
              Allah
              a mother offers
              You this gift
              prays You find
              it acceptable
              her living pain
              her creature pain
              her pretty-little-baby
              pain

              Longlist - Poetry

              Fantasia for the Man in Blue
              by Tommye Blount

                Publication Date:
                List Price: $16.95
                Format: Paperback, 152 pages
                Classification: Poetry
                ISBN13: 9781945588495
                Imprint: Four Way Books
                Publisher: Four Way Books
                Parent Company: Four Way Books
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                Read a Description of Fantasia for the Man in Blue


                Book Description: In his debut collection Fantasia for the Man in Blue, Tommye Blount orchestrates a chorus of distinct, unforgettable voices that speak to the experience of the black, queer body as a site of desire and violence. A black man’s late-night encounter with a police officer—the titular "man in blue"—becomes an extended meditation on a dangerous erotic fantasy. The late Luther Vandross, resurrected here in a suite of poems, addresses the contradiction between his public persona and a life spent largely in the closet: "It’s a calling, this hunger / to sing for a love I’m too ashamed to want for myself." In "Aaron McKinney Cleans His Magnum," the convicted killer imagines the barrel of the gun he used to bludgeon Matthew Shepard as an "infant’s small mouth" as well as the "sad calculator" that was "built to subtract from and divide a town." In these and other poems, Blount viscerally captures the experience of the "other" and locates us squarely within these personae.


                Longlist - Young People’s Literature

                King and the Dragonflies
                by Kacen Callender

                  Publication Date:
                  List Price: $17.99
                  Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
                  Classification: Fiction
                  Target Age Group: Middle Grade
                  ISBN13: 9781338129335
                  Imprint: Scholastic Press
                  Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
                  Parent Company: Scholastic Inc.
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                  Read a Description of King and the Dragonflies


                  Book Description: 
                  In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.

                  Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

                  It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. "You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?"

                  But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.

                  The Thing About Jellyfish meets The Stars Beneath Our Feet in this story about loss, grief, and finding the courage to discover one’s identity, from the author of Hurricane Child.


                  Longlist - Young People’s Literature

                  Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box
                  by Evette Dionne

                    Publication Date:
                    List Price: $19.99
                    Format: Hardcover, 176 pages
                    Classification: Nonfiction
                    Target Age Group: Middle Grade
                    ISBN13: 9780451481542
                    Imprint: Viking Books for Young Readers
                    Publisher: Penguin Random House
                    Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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                    Read a Description of Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box


                    Book Description: 
                    For African American women, the fight for the right to vote was only one battle.

                    An eye-opening book that tells the important, overlooked story of black women as a force in the suffrage movement—when fellow suffragists did not accept them as equal partners in the struggle.

                    Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Alice Paul. The Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. The 1913 Women’s March in D.C. When the epic story of the suffrage movement in the United States is told, the most familiar leaders, speakers at meetings, and participants in marches written about or pictured are generally white.

                    That’s not the real story.

                    Women of color, especially African American women, were fighting for their right to vote and to be treated as full, equal citizens of the United States. Their battlefront wasn’t just about gender. African American women had to deal with white abolitionist-suffragists who drew the line at sharing power with their black sisters. They had to overcome deep, exclusionary racial prejudices that were rife in the American suffrage movement. And they had to maintain their dignity—and safety—in a society that tried to keep them in its bottom ranks.

                    Lifting as We Climb is the empowering story of African American women who refused to accept all this. Women in black church groups, black female sororities, black women’s improvement societies and social clubs. Women who formed their own black suffrage associations when white-dominated national suffrage groups rejected them. Women like Mary Church Terrell, a founder of the National Association of Colored Women and of the NAACP; or educator-activist Anna Julia Cooper who championed women getting the vote and a college education; or the crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, a leader in both the suffrage and anti-lynching movements.

                    Author Evette Dionne, a feminist culture writer and the editor-in-chief of Bitch Media, has uncovered an extraordinary and underrepresented history of black women. In her powerful book, she draws an important historical line from abolition to suffrage to civil rights to contemporary young activists—filling in the blanks of the American suffrage story.

                    ★"Dionne provides a detailed and comprehensive look at the overlooked roles African American women played in the efforts to end slavery and then to secure the right to vote for women." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

                    Longlist - Young People’s Literature

                    Every Body Looking
                    by Candice Iloh

                      Publication Date:
                      List Price: $17.99
                      Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
                      Classification: Fiction
                      Target Age Group: Young Adult
                      ISBN13: 9780525556206
                      Imprint: Dutton Books for Young Readers
                      Publisher: Penguin Random House
                      Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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                      Read a Description of Every Body Looking


                      Book Description: 
                      "Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing."—Jacqueline Woodson, New York Times Bestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

                      "An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon."—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

                      "This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person." —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down

                      Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada’s young life—her mother’s descent into addiction, her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college—into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.