Shorter days, colder temperatures, fall colors and a hint of winter’s arrival in the early morning frosts can only mean one thing: time to stock up on reading material for the long winter nights ahead!
The National Book Awards Longlists of nominees in various genres have been announced this month, providing a great source of reading suggestions. Finalists will be revealed October 10th and winners announced November 14th.
The Fiction Longlist includes one title by a previous National Book Award honoree, Lauren Groff, who was a Finalist in 2015. Longlisted authors have been honored with Whiting Awards, the O. Henry Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Pushcart Prizes, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and more, and their work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper’s, Tin House, and The Best American Short Stories, among many others. Working from New York, Illinois, Oklahoma, California, Mexico City, and more, the ten Longlisted authors represent a wide geographic range. The Longlist includes multiple New York Times–bestselling authors, three story collections, and four debuts, and is made up of narratives addressing issues of addiction, grief, class division, racism, gender roles, cultural identity, American politics, and many more.
In two Longlisted titles, young lives are pushed off course by misfortune, with characters left struggling to pick up the pieces. Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage tells the story of a newlywed couple swiftly approaching the American Dream who are violently interrupted when one of them is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. A New York Times bestseller and 2018 pick for Oprah’s Book Club, the novel is an intimate portrait of a relationship, exploring how class divides affect the Black experience, the roles women are asked to play, and a criminal justice system that looms over many communities. In Daniel Gumbiner’s The Boatbuilder, a twenty-eight-year-old man who has moved easily through the world sustains a concussion with lingering effects, opening a door to opioid addiction and quickly leading to crime. Taken in by a craftsman and a community in Northern California, the young man must learn how to rebuild and sustain his own life in this novel about recovery, redemption, and self-reliance.
Addressing grief and the unexpected places we find solace, Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend is the story of a writer who loses her dearest friend, only to inexplicably be left his aging Great Dane. Infusing its first-person narrative with quotes and anecdotes from numerous literary texts, the novel provides a realistic portrayal of a devoted writer struggling to cope with loss and parsing the complicated legacy of a loved one.
Two story collections, both debuts, gather myriad narratives to render a portrait of contemporary Black identity. In A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley populates nine stories set in New York City with a host of Black boys and men—brothers, friends, classmates—all grappling with questions of masculinity, trauma, and entrenched racism. Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads of the Colored People approaches current events and politics with a dark humor, commenting on racial dynamics and inequality, offering a nuanced look at the Black middle class from multiple perspectives.
Two novels explore the experiences of Native Americans navigating lives deeply impacted by the nation’s long history of damaging treatment. Brandon Hobson’s Where the Dead Sit Talking follows a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy placed in a new foster home, reeling from the effects of his mother’s substance abuse and seeking closeness and commiseration with a fellow foster child. In Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There, a wide range of Native American characters prepare for an Oakland powwow, sifting through difficult questions of identity, betrayal, and intergenerational trauma.
Another Longlisted title, set against a particularly alarming moment in recent history, depicts the many lives upended by the AIDS crisis. In alternating chapters, Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers follows a group queer friends in Chicago in the 1980s and a woman in 2015 searching for her daughter in Paris, chronicling the years of the American AIDS epidemic from its terrifying outbreak to the present, and addressing issues of systemic neglect, the burden of memory, and the rippling consequences of loss and grief.
The state of Florida serves as the backdrop for two titles dealing with power, politics, and the many complexities of motherhood. Jennifer Clement’s novel Gun Love tells the story of a teenage girl raised by her mother near a trailer park in the heart of the Sunshine State, forced to confront life-altering violence in a community wrapped up in a casual obsession with firearms. In Florida by 2015 National Book Award Finalist Lauren Groff, the titular state lives at the heart of eleven disparate stories set in suburbs, swamps, and in the middle of hurricanes, examining themes of love, pain, isolation, and the many expectations and experiences tied to motherhood.
2018 Longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction:
Jamel Brinkley, A Lucky Man, Graywolf Press
Jennifer Clement, Gun Love, Hogarth / Penguin Random House
Lauren Groff, Florida, Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House
Daniel Gumbiner, The Boatbuilder, McSweeney’s
Brandon Hobson, Where the Dead Sit Talking, Soho Press
Tayari Jones, An American Marriage, Algonquin Books / Workman Publishing
Rebecca Makkai, The Great Believers, Viking Books / Penguin Random House
Sigrid Nunez, The Friend, Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House
Tommy Orange, There There, Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House
Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Heads of the Colored People, Atria Books / 37 INK / Simon & Schuster
The 2018 Longlist includes recipients of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, the Ray Allen Billington Prize, the Lannan Literary Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and many more. Authors on the Longlist hail from regions across the United States, including Connecticut, Ohio, Kansas, Illinois, and California. They have held positions at prestigious institutions throughout the country, and at media companies like The New Yorker, National Geographic, and VICE. Including explorations of American history and politics, biographies, memoirs, scientific explication, and an essay collection, the titles on this year’s Longlist represent an exceptionally wide range of subjects and genres.
A work of natural history considers the ramifications of a relatively recent and unexpected scientific discovery. In The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, David Quammen chronicles the research, central figures, and consequences involved in the discovery of a gene’s ability to move across species lines, greatly altering the way that science understands evolution, genetics, and the history of life itself.
Two titles delve into the lives and legacies of figures from the United States’ earliest history. Colin G. Calloway’s The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation recounts the relationship between Native leaders and our first president, aiming to illustrate the ways in which Washington’s interests were directly tied to the destruction of Native lands and rights, and examining the influence of the country’s first inhabitants on the trajectory of one of the most famous figures in American history. American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson sheds light on the life and work of David Hosack, a renowned surgeon at the turn of the 19th century, whose passion for botany would lead him toward groundbreaking pharmaceutical research, the gathering of unmatched collections of flora, and the pioneering of medical practices that took inspiration and direction from the natural world, ultimately impacting the medical and botanical worlds for many years to come.
Examining the legacy of a historical figure of another era, Jeffrey C. Stewart’s The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke provides a granularly detailed account of the life of the often overlooked Alain Locke, a Harvard-educated philosopher and scholar who was one of the key architects of the Harlem Renaissance. The work explores his years of education, his becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar, his role as a champion of African American art in the Jazz Age, his complex personal life, and his work and contributions in helping lay the groundwork for contemporary African American studies.
Three Longlisted titles trace the roots of American political and cultural phenomena. In One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, Carol Anderson follows recent changes in our electoral system and the way they impact citizens’ ability to vote, outlining the ways in which gerrymandering, poll closures, and similar practices have effectively rolled back African American voting participation in the last five years. Steve Coll’s Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan details a sprawling history of the United States’ involvement in the ongoing conflict in South Asia, from pre-9/11 to today, working to elucidate the nuanced and often secretive political happenings that affected U.S. policy across multiple administrations. In We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, Adam Winkler traces corporations’ long history of influence in the U.S., and the ways in which they have shaped the nation and politics to create a system in which they have rights that closely resemble the rights of individuals.
Two titles seek to examine the politics of our time through essay and memoir. Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) brings together a selection of Rebecca Solnit’s essays on current issues of our time, offering sociopolitical critiques of issues such as environmental threats, police brutality, gentrification, and more. Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth details Smarsh’s childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and ‘90s, addressing issues of generational poverty, class divides, and identity through the lens of first-hand experience.
A second memoir on the 2018 Longlist looks toward lives beyond the United States. In Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War, Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple chronicle Hisham’s coming of age during the Syrian War, from the Arab Spring to the present, and include illustrations by co-author Crabapple that aim to capture the turmoil, repression, resistance, and hope of the time.
2018 Longlist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction:
Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, Bloomsbury Publishing
Colin G. Calloway, The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation, Oxford University Press
Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Penguin Press / Penguin Random House
Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple, Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War, One World / Penguin Random House
Victoria Johnson, American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company
David Quammen, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, Simon & Schuster
Sarah Smarsh, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Scribner / Simon & Schuster
Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays), Haymarket Books
Jeffrey C. Stewart, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Oxford University Press
Adam Winkler, We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company
The 2018 Poetry Longlist includes a previous National Book Award Finalist, Rae Armantrout, and one Winner, Terrance Hayes, who was also a Finalist in 2015. This group of poets includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, and multiple Walt Whitman Award winners and Whiting Award recipients. Their work has been supported by fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Academy of American Poets, Poets & Writers, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. From California, Colorado, Mississippi, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and more, these ten poets represent a wide swath of American geography and experience. Two of the Longlist titles, feeld and Museum of the Americas, came to publication with the help of the 2017 National Poetry Series Competition, and Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Ghost Of was the winner of the Omnidawn 2016/17 Open Poetry Book Prize, selected by Terrance Hayes, a fellow 2018 Longlister. The ten titles include one debut collection, and seven are published by independent presses.
New collections by three well-known poets turn a critical eye to the past, present, and future of the country. Teetering on the edge of the American Dream, Pulitzer Prize winner Rae Armantrout’s Wobble seeks to both playfully and forcefully evoke the devastation of a chaotic, unstoppable culture. In American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, National Book Award Winner Terrance Hayes works through fear, bewilderment, and ambivalence as he grapples with a moment in American history both new and entirely too familiar. In former U.S. Poet Laureate Nathasha Trethewey’s Monument: Poems New and Selected, the Pulitzer Prize winner serves as a witness to neglected figures from the past, celebrating their lives and pushing back against white supremacy and a culture that erases the stories of the marginalized.
Questions of systemic hostility and the struggle against oppressive institutions live at the heart of Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency, which seeks to intimately confront issues of masculinity, sexuality, racism, and more, working to both critique and lament a culture of exploitation.
Eschewing traditional rules of form and language, two titles were published with the help of the 2017 National Poetry Series Competition. Jos Charles’s second collection, feeld, builds a language of its own, working to deconstruct the speech and vocabulary of gender while reckoning with the histories and violence of a world that has never yielded to its narrator. Using a blend of images, verse, and creative nonfiction, Museum of the Americas by J. Michael Martinez probes the relationship of the corporeal form with deeply rooted imperialistic histories, interrogating the values assigned to the subjugated human body by dominant cultures.
Another collection confronts the language and history of colonialism. In a bilingual edition, Raquel Salas Rivera’s lo terciario / the tertiary reconsiders the work of Marx while working to process the ravages of colonization in the poet’s birthplace of Puerto Rico.
Collections from two Longlisted poets concern themselves with the experience of loss and mourning. Forrest Gander’s Be With wanders across a landscape of grief, charting its own path through loss and language and drawing from his experiences as a translator. In her debut collection, Ghost Of, Diana Khoi Nguyen explores the liminality of mourning, reaching out toward the memories and voids left behind by a lost loved one.
Interiority and restlessness permeate Jenny Xie’s Eye Level, which meditates on the itinerant body and identity, examining shifting and rarely solidifying experiences of solitude, estrangement, and belonging.
2018 Longlist for the National Book Award for Poetry:
Rae Armantrout, Wobble, Wesleyan University Press
Jos Charles, feeld, Milkweed Editions
Forrest Gander, Be With, New Directions
Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, Penguin Books / Penguin Random House
Michael Martinez, Museum of the Americas, Penguin Books / Penguin Random House
Diana Khoi Nguyen, Ghost Of, Omnidawn Publishing
Justin Phillip Reed, Indecency, Coffee House Press
Raquel Salas Rivera, lo terciario / the tertiary, Timeless, Infinite Light
Natasha Trethewey, Monument: Poems New and Selected, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Jenny Xie, Eye Level, Graywolf Press
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE LONGLIST
Two of this year’s YPL Longlisted authors have been previously recognized by the National Book Awards. M. T. Anderson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2006, was a Finalist in 2002, and was Longlisted in 2015. Elizabeth Partridge has also been previously nominated, as a YPL Finalist in 2002. Authors appearing on this year’s Longlist have been honored by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Awards, the American Library Association, the Children’s Choice Book Awards, Cave Canem, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, and the Tomie dePaola Awards, among others. Works by these authors have received multiple Newbery Honors and a Newbery Medal. From Massachusetts to Michigan to California, these authors hail from regions across the United States. Two of the authors appearing on the Longlist are debut writers.
Two novels written in verse follow the lives of young women struggling to be heard and seen, many years apart. In Elizabeth Acevedo’s New York Times bestseller, The Poet X, a Dominican teen finds her voice in slam poetry, even as she pushes back against a restrictive family life and the unwanted attention of her neighbors. In the debut novel Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, the story of a real-life Italian Baroque painter is imagined in verse, rendering a portrait of a young woman forced to make difficult decisions about her art and her agency following terrible violence.
While the majority of this year’s titles are written for young adults, two middle grade works make the Longlist. In The Journey of Little Charlie, Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy in 1858 who, after agreeing to seek out three fugitives in order to pay off a debt, must rise above the ugly values of his time to become an unlikely hero. In Leslie Connor’s The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, another young protagonist struggles to make sense of the unexplained death of his best friend, as a cycle of bullying continues and a new friend goes missing.
Two titles make use of photographic and illustrated images to examine political and personal histories. In Elizabeth Partridge’s Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam, the 2002 National Book Award Finalist weaves together interviews, narrative, and photos to evoke the tension and emotion that made the Vietnam War one of the most turbulent moments in American history. Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a graphic memoir that chronicles a childhood fraught with familial addiction and abandonment, illustrating the exceptional power of art as survival.
A third illustrated title makes use of fantasy and political satire to comment on conflict, discrimination, and the bias inherent in history as told by those on top. M. T. Anderson, who has been recognized by the National Book Awards three times previously (2006 Winner, 2002 Finalist, 2015 Longlister), and Eugene Yelchin combine narrative prose and extravagant illustration to tell a story of elves, goblins, and intrigue in The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge.
Two books follow young women decades apart who are struggling with identity and their place in the world following unspeakable tragedy. In Vesper Stamper’s illustrated debut novel, What the Night Sings, teenaged Gerta survives the horrors of the Holocaust, emerging on the other side lost and bereft, uncertain of how to move forward. The young adult novel A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is set in 2002, as a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl copes with adolescence in a post-9/11 world that often feels hostile, finding comfort in music, breakdancing, and an unexpected young romance.
Another novel for young adults melds epistolary storytelling with third-person flashbacks to chronicle the lifelong friendship of two young men whose paths diverge drastically, sending one to death row. Bryan Bliss’s We’ll Fly Away addresses questions of loyalty, betrayal, and the irrevocable choices we make.
2018 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature:
Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X, HarperTeen / HarperCollins Publishers
T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, Candlewick Press
Bryan Bliss, We’ll Fly Away, Greenwillow Books / HarperCollins Publishers
Leslie Connor, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins Publishers
Christopher Paul Curtis, The Journey of Little Charlie, Scholastic Press / Scholastic, Inc.
Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Hey, Kiddo, Graphix / Scholastic, Inc.
Tahereh Mafi, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, HarperTeen / HarperCollins Publishers
Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint, Dutton Children’s Books / Penguin Random House
Elizabeth Partridge, Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam, Viking Children’s Books / Penguin Random House
Vesper Stamper, What the Night Sings, Knopf Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
The National Book Awards is one of the nation’s most prestigious literary prizes and has a stellar record of identifying and rewarding quality writing. In 1950, William Carlos Williams was the first Winner in Poetry, the following year William Faulkner was honored in Fiction, and so on through the years. Many previous Winners of the National Book Award are now firmly established in the canon of American literature, including Ralph Ellison, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich, and Jesmyn Ward.