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. Since the Award’s inception many Black writers have been honored. The National Book Awards have been supportive of AALBC.com and we are proud to showcase these authors as they represent the best of American literature. Thanks to Sherrie Young, the National Book Award’s Director of Marketing and Special Projects, for her support in compiling this information (more).
9 Books Honored by the National Book Awards in 2015
Winner - Nonfiction
Between The World And Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publication Date: Jul 01, 2015
List Price: $24.00 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 176
Imprint: Spiegel & Grau
Read AALBC.com’s Review of Between The World And Me
Debuted #1 New York Times Best Seller • Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” (The New York Observer)
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Winner - Poetry
Voyage of the Sable Venus: and Other Poems
by Robin Coste Lewis
Publication Date: Sep 29, 2015
List Price: $26.00 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 160
A stunning poetry debut: this meditation on the black female figure throughout time introduces us to a brave and penetrating new voice.
Robin Coste Lewis’s electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems considering the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. The central panel is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” a riveting narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking study of the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, as it juxtaposes our names for things with what we actually see and know. Offering a new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin—five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role has art played in this ancient, often heinous story? From the “Young Black Female Carrying / a Perfume Vase” to a “Little Brown Girl / Girl Standing in a Tree / First Day of Voluntary / School Integration,” this poet adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire and how they define us all, including herself, as she explores her own sometimes painful history. Lewis’s book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race—a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.
Finalist - Fiction
The Turner House
by Angela Flournoy
Publication Date: Apr 14, 2015
List Price: $23.00 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 352
Imprint: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A powerful, timely debut, The Turner House marks a major new contribution to the story of the American family.
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone—and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts and shapes their family’s future.
Praised by Ayana Mathis as “utterly moving” and “un-putdownable,” The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It’s a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home.
Finalist - Nonfiction
Ordinary Light: A Memoir
by Tracy K. Smith
Publication Date: Mar 31, 2015
List Price: $25.95 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 368
National Book Award Finalist
From the dazzlingly original Pulitzer Prize-winning poet hailed for her “extraordinary range and ambition” (The New York Times Book Review): a quietly potent memoir that explores coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter.
The youngest of five children, Tracy K. Smith was raised with limitless affection and a firm belief in God by a stay-at-home mother and an engineer father. But just as Tracy is about to leave home for college, her mother is diagnosed with cancer, a condition she accepts as part of God’s plan. Ordinary Light is the story of a young woman struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.
In lucid, clear prose, Smith interrogates her childhood in suburban California, her first collision with independence at Harvard, and her Alabama-bornparents’recollections oftheir own youth in theCivil Rights era. These dizzying juxtapositions—of her family’s past, her own comfortable present, and the promise of her future—will in due course compel Tracy to act on her passions for love and “ecstatic possibility,” and her desire to become a writer.
Shot through with exquisite lyricism, wry humor, and an acute awareness of the beauty of everyday life, Ordinary Light is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of self and family, one that skillfully combines a child’s and teenager’s perceptions with adult retrospection. Here is a universal story of being and becoming, a classic portrait of the ways we find and lose ourselves amid the places we call home.
Finalist - Poetry
How to Be Drawn
by Terrance Hayes
Publication Date: Mar 31, 2015
List Price: $20.00 Format: Paperback
Page Count: 112
Imprint: William Morrow
A dazzling new collection of poetry by Terrance Hayes, the National Book Awardwinning author of Lighthead
In How to Be Drawn, his daring fifth collection, Terrance Hayes explores how we see and are seen. While many of these poems bear the clearest imprint yet of Hayes’s background as a visual artist, they do not strive to describe art so much as inhabit it. Thus, one poem contemplates the
principle of blind contour drawing while others are inspired by maps, graphs, and assorted artists. The formal and emotional versatilities that distinguish Hayes’s award-winning poetry are unified by existential focus. Simultaneously complex and transparent, urgent and composed, How to Be Drawn is a mesmerizing achievement.
Finalist - Poetry
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry Series)
by Ross Gay
Publication Date: Jan 07, 2015
List Price: $15.95 Format: Paperback
Page Count: 112
Imprint: University of Pittsburgh Press
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is a sustained meditation on that which goes away—loved ones, the seasons, the earth as we know it—that tries to find solace in the processes of the garden and the orchard. That is, this is a book that studies the wisdom of the garden and orchard, those places where all—death, sorrow, loss—is converted into what might, with patience, nourish us.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude has been "longlisted" for the National Book Award, poetry category.
Longlist - Fiction
Welcome to Braggsville: A Novel
by T. Geronimo Johnson
Publication Date: Feb 17, 2015
List Price: $25.99 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 384
Imprint: Penguin Books
From the PEN/Faulkner finalist and critically acclaimed author of Hold It ’Til It Hurts comes a dark and socially provocative Southern-fried comedy about four UC Berkeley students who stage a dramatic protest during a Civil War reenactment—a fierce, funny, tragic work from a bold new writer.Welcome to Braggsville. The City that Love Built in the Heart of Georgia. Population 712Born and raised in the heart of old Dixie, D’aron Davenport finds himself in unfamiliar territory his freshman year at UC Berkeley. Two thousand miles and a world away from his childhood, he is a small-town fish floundering in the depths of a large, hyper-liberal pond. Caught between the prosaic values of his rural hometown and the intellectualized multicultural cosmopolitanism of Berzerkeley, the nineteen-year-old white kid is uncertain about his place until one disastrous party brings him three idiosyncratic best friends: Louis, a “kung-fu comedian" from California; Candice, an earnest do-gooder claiming Native roots from Iowa; and Charlie, an introspective inner-city black teen from Chicago. They dub themselves the “4 Little Indians.”But everything changes in the group’s alternative history class, when D’aron lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, recently rebranded “Patriot Days.” His announcement is met with righteous indignation, and inspires Candice to suggest a “performative intervention” to protest the reenactment. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal, and their own misguided ideas about the South, the 4 Little Indians descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues is uproarious to start, but will have devastating consequences.With the keen wit of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and the deft argot of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, T. Geronimo Johnson has written an astonishing, razor-sharp satire. Using a panoply of styles and tones, from tragicomic to Southern Gothic, he skewers issues of class, race, intellectual and political chauvinism, Obamaism, social media, and much more.A literary coming-of-age novel for a new generation, written with tremendous social insight and a unique, generous heart, Welcome to Braggsville reminds us of the promise and perils of youthful exuberance, while painting an indelible portrait of contemporary America.
Longlist - Young People’s Literature
X: A Novel
by Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, Illustrated by Kekla Magoon
Publication Date: Jan 06, 2015
List Price: $16.99 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 384
Cowritten by Malcolm X’s daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world.
Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.
X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.
Longlist - Poetry
by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Publication Date: Jun 16, 2015
List Price: $24.00 Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 80
Imprint: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Long-listed for the National Book Award in poetryA spectacularly vibrant and continually surprising collection from one of the poetry world’s rising young stars"Who the hell’s heaven is this?" Rowan Ricardo Phillips offers many answers, and none at all, in Heaven, the piercing and revelatory encore to his award-winning debut, The Ground. Swerving elegantly from humor to heartbreak, from Colorado to Florida, from Dante’s Paradise to Homer’s Iliad, from knowledge to ignorance to awe, Phillips turns his gaze upward and outward, probing and upending notions of the beyond.
"Feeling, real feeling / with all its faulty / Architecture, is / Beyond a god’s touch"?but it does not elude Phillips. Meditating on feverish boyhood, on two paintings by Chuck Close, on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, on a dead rooster by the side of the road in Ohio, on an elk grazing outside his window, his language remains eternally intoxicating, full of play, pathos, and surprise.
"The end," he writes, "like / All I’ve ever told you, is uncertain." Or, elsewhere: "The only way then to know a truth / Is to squint in its direction and poke." Phillips?who received a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award as well as the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award?may not be certain, but as he squints and pokes in the direction of truth, his power of perception and elegance of expression create a place where beauty and truth come together and drift apart like a planet orbiting its star. The result is a book whose lush and wounding beauty will leave its mark on readers long after they’ve turned the last page.
In the video below Rowan reads the following poem “The Once and Future King of Ohio” from his collection Heaven
Dawn. Two roosters stud the side of the road.
One of them is dead. The other stands there
Stiff in the car’s sudden breeze, staring out
Across the hilly Ohio highway,
Skyward towards that something slight of bright
Reds and pinks, a pallid rooster-feathered
Hue, as silent as the rooster standing
And as distant as the rooster on its side.
We drove by, my guide and I, too quickly
To know if one rooster was waiting for
The other, or which had been waiting–,
Or, if they’d planned to cross the road together
When suddenly something went terribly wrong
Either at the end of having crossed it
Or simply, as happens, during the wait.
The whole Ohio highway seemed to know, though,
Like the gate of Heaven you see at death
(As a light or a shining shunning darkness)
Knows Heaven without actually being
Heaven, being rather just a border,
Still part of our plausible world
Of parts, living and dead, male and female,
Color and color, belief and belief
There’s really no reason to believe or
Not to believe what you see when you see it.
But when at speed I saw those two roosters
Trying to figure out whats next for them
As the distances we travelled on the
661 swallowed them whole with wheat,
I looked from my passenger’s seat into
The cars rearview mirror, and saw nothing
That was neither Heaven nor Ohio
As the horses stirred, and the steeples slept,
And the state flattened out like a mirror.
And am I not a mirror for that mirror?
On March 16, 1950, publishers, editors, writers, and critics gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to celebrate the first annual National Book Awards, an award given to writers by writers. The American Book Publisher’s Council, The Book Manufacturers’ Institute, and The American Booksellers’ Association jointly sponsored the Awards, bringing together the American literary community for the first time to honor the year’s best work in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. As the Boston Herald reported the following day, “literary history was indeed in the making.”