National Book Awards Announces Its 2021 Nominees

This year’s fiction longlist includes Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a 2020 nominee in the poetry category, as well as Richard Powers, who also made the Booker Prize shortlist this week.

By Elizabeth A. Harris

The 10 nominees for this year’s National Book Award in fiction include four authors who have been finalists for the prize before and one debut novelist who made last year’s poetry longlist.

She is Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, whose novel, “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” focuses on a young Black woman who tracks her family’s history to a Georgia town where her ancestors were enslaved. Jeffers was longlisted in 2020 for her book of poetry, “The Age of Phillis.”

The four authors previously shortlisted for fiction are Lauren Groff, nominated this year for “Matrix”; Anthony Doerr for “Cloud Cuckoo Land”; Elizabeth McCracken for “The Souvenir Museum”; and Richard Powers for “Bewilderment,” the one National Book Award nominee this year who is also a Booker Prize finalist.

The other authors longlisted for fiction include Laird Hunt for “Zorrie,” Katie Kitamura for “Intimacies” and Jason Mott for “Hell of a Book,” as well as two other debut novelists: Jakob Guanzon, whose book “Abundance” follows a father and son for 24 hours after they are evicted on New Year’s Eve from their trailer, and Robert Jones Jr., whose novel “The Prophets” is a love story between two enslaved men on a plantation in the Deep South.

The 10 nonfiction contenders include one author longlisted in 2019, Hanif Abdurraqib, this time for his book “A Little Devil in America,” as well as two books that examine the legacy of slavery in the United States. Clint Smith visited nine sites connected to slavery for his book “How the Word Is Passed,” while Tiya Miles, in her book “All That She Carried,” explores the history of a family through a cotton sack, embroidered with a list of mementos given from mother to daughter as they were about to be sold apart.

In the poetry category, all but one are first-time nominees, the exception being Forrest Gander for “Twice Alive.” Several of the longlisted collections deal with loss, and two explore what it means to feel like a foreigner in the United States. They are “The Wild Fox of Yemen,” by Threa Almontaser, who shifts between family histories of Yemen and stories of America after Sept. 11, and “Ghost Letters,” in which Baba Badji probes what it means to be Senegalese, Black and in the United States.

On the longlist for young people’s literature, two coming-of-age stories look at issues of gender and sexuality. Malinda Lo’s “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” centers on a 17-year-old in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare as she falls in love for the first time. In Kyle Lukoff’s “Too Bright to See,” readers follow a transgender child named Bug during the summer before middle school, which a reviewer for The New York Times described as the “story of what it’s like to realize the gender you were assigned at birth is not the one you actually are.”

The nominees for translated literature include books originally published in Korean, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, French and German. Two of them focus on political violence, including “Peach Blossom Paradise,” written by Ge Fei and translated from Chinese by Canaan Morse, which follows a young woman during the Hundred Days Reform, and “The Twilight Zone,” by Nona Fernández and translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, which reflects on Pinochet’s regime in Chile.

Two others, “When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamín Labatut and translated by Adrian Nathan West, and “In Memory of Memory” by Maria Stepanova and translated by Sasha Dugdale, were finalists for this year’s International Booker Prize.

The shortlists for the National Book Awards will be made public on Oct. 5. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on Nov. 17.

Below is a complete list of the 2021 nominees in all five categories.


Anthony Doerr, “Cloud Cuckoo Land”

Lauren Groff, “Matrix”

Jakob Guanzon, “Abundance”

Laird Hunt, “Zorrie”

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois”

Robert Jones Jr., “The Prophets”

Katie Kitamura, “Intimacies”

Elizabeth McCracken, “The Souvenir Museum: Stories”

Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”

Richard Powers, “Bewilderment”


Hanif Abdurraqib, “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance”

Lucas Bessire, “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains”

Grace M. Cho, “Tastes Like War: A Memoir”

Scott Ellsworth, “The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice”

Nicole Eustace, “Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America”

Heather McGhee, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together”

Louis Menand, “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War”

Tiya Miles, “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake”

Clint Smith, “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America”

Deborah Willis, “The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship”


Threa Almontaser, “The Wild Fox of Yemen”

Baba Badji, “Ghost Letters”

Desiree C. Bailey, “What Noise Against the Cane”

CM Burroughs, “Master Suffering”

Andrés Cerpa, “The Vault”

Martín Espada, “Floaters”

Forrest Gander, “Twice Alive”

Douglas Kearney, “Sho”

Hoa Nguyen, “A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure”

Jackie Wang, “The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void”

Translated Literature

Maryse Condé, “Waiting for the Waters to Rise”
Translated from the French by Richard Philcox

Elisa Shua Dusapin, “Winter in Sokcho”
Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Ge Fei, “Peach Blossom Paradise”
Translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse

Nona Fernández, “The Twilight Zone”
Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

Bo-Young Kim, “On the Origin of Species and Other Stories”
Translated from the Korean by Joungmin Lee Comfort and Sora Kim-Russell

Benjamín Labatut, “When We Cease to Understand the World”
Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West

Elvira Navarro, “Rabbit Island: Stories”
Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

Judith Schalansky, “An Inventory of Losses”
Translated from the German by Jackie Smith

Maria Stepanova, “In Memory of Memory”
Translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale

Samar Yazbek, “Planet of Clay”
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price

Young People’s Literature

Safia Elhillo, “Home Is Not a Country”

Shing Yin Khor, “The Legend of Auntie Po”

Darcie Little Badger, “A Snake Falls to Earth”

Malinda Lo, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club”

Kyle Lukoff, “Too Bright to See”

Kekla Magoon, “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People”

Amber McBride, “Me (Moth)”

Anna-Marie McLemore, “The Mirror Season”

Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Floyd Cooper, “Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre”

Paula Yoo, “From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement”

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