On November 18th, the National Book Foundation will release their final selections for the 2020 National Book Awards. Created in 1936, the National Book Awards were first supported by the American Booksellers Association, but the association was forced to take a pause during World War II. In 1950, the Awards were reestablished by a trio of book industry organizations, and ever since, the team at the National Book Awards has been judging (and awarding) the pieces of literature that made the most impact on them throughout the year.
This year the awards are being judged by literary titans like Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist), , Terry Tempest Williams (Erosion: Essays of Undoing), Layli Long Solider (2017 National Book Award Finalist in Poetry for WHEREAS), Dinaw Mengestu (three-time New York Times Notable Book recipient), Joan Trygg ( general manager at Red Balloon Bookshop), and dozens of other authors, poets, artists, and members of the literary community.
For the first time, The National Book Awards will be streamed online this year, and anyone can attend. Our team at BookClub felt that there was something a little more special about this year’s class of books. Since so many of us spent our months of quarantine holed up with nothing but books to read, the nominees for this year’s National Book Awards helped us keep our minds busy and our hearts fulfilled.
And though we might not be official members of the National Book Foundation judging council, we are passionate about good books, so we have a few predictions about who we think is going to win an award this year. Find our predictions below and watch the awards on November 18th to see if we were right!
Best in Fiction
The contenders: Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam, A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yew.
Our prediction: Though our team loved all of this year’s contenders (Shuggie Brain and A Children’s Bible put up some serious competition!), Leave The World Behind was BookClub’s pick to win the category. And honestly, it’s pretty easy to see why: this thriller follows two families— one on vacation and the other fleeing chaos— as they are faced with disaster and unable to tell who they can trust. Referenced by many reviewers as the quintessential Covid-19 book, Alam’s third novel will leave you feeling uneasy and fulfilled all at once.
Best In Nonfiction
The contenders: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Dead Are Arising: Life of Malcom X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne, Unworthy Republic: The Disposession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland, How to Make A Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker.
Our prediction: Each of this year’s contenders for the National Book Award in nonfiction were powerful, poignant, and incredibly timely, though we predict that The Dead Are Arising: Life of Malcom X will shine through as the winner in this category. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne and his daughter Tamara, the book is the result of a thirty-year project to interview everyone with some kind of connection to Malcolm X, and the finished product will leave you haunted in the best way.
Best In Poetry
The contenders: A Treatise on Stars by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Fantasia For the Man in Blue by Tommye Blount, DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi, Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody, Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz.
Our prediction: As lovers of poetry and the emotions good poems create, our team struggled to decide the book we thought might take home this award. While our team absolutely loved DMZ Colony, A Treatise On Stars, and Fantasia for the Man In Blue, ultimately we predict that Postcolonial Love Poem will be the winner of the year. Full of deeply rich descriptions, powerful language, and deeply important conversations about Latinx, Black, and Brown women, this book of poetry will encourage you to look deep within yourself and feel something.
The contenders: High As The Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann, The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, The Bitch by Pilar Quintana, Minor Detail by Adania Shibli.
Our prediction: High As The Waters Rise was the no-brainer selection from the BookClub team. This mystery written by Kampmann and translated by Anne Posten left us feeling keyed up and even a little unsettled as Waclaw, the main character, searches for his missing bunkmate on board of an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean (psst...have you ever seen photos of oil rigs at sea? They’re terrifying.) in a journey that takes him all the way back to the mining town of his childhood. This exploration of male intimacy and grief is a powerful piece of work.
Young People’s Literature
The contenders: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, We Are Not Free by Traci Chee, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, and The Way Back by Gavriel Savit.
Our prediction: Though we love all book genres here at BookClub, there’s something special about Young People’s Literature. Maybe it’s that it allows us to be nostalgic of days past or it’s easier to get engrossed in, but Young People’s Literature is so often extraordinary that this was another hard category for us to nail down. We were torn between When Stars Are Scattered and King and the Dragonflies, but at the end of the day we selected King and The Dragonflies because it’s a powerful story about love, loss, and friendship - three things that seem to matter now more than ever.
The list of finalists and the long-lists in each category are full of compelling, powerful, and exceptionally written books. Any book you choose from this list is likely to leave you stunned long after you complete it.
What are your predictions for the National Book Awards? Join us on Twitter at @bookclubdotcom where we’ll be live-tweeting along with the awards on November 18 using #NBAwards!