Marlon James, Akwaeke Emezi, Jason Reynolds among 2019 U.S. National Book Awards finalists

The shortlists for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people's literature and translation were announced this week. The winners will be announced on Nov. 20, 2019.
(From left): Marlon James, Jason Reynolds and Akwaeke Emezi are among the 2019 National Book Awards finalists. (Mark Seliger,, Beowulf Sheehan)

The U.S. National Book Awards released their shortlists for the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people's literature and translation.

With the exception of translation, the awards are only open to U.S. citizens.

The winners will be announced on Nov. 20, 2019.

Marlon James's fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf is nominated in the fiction category.

The book follows a man named Tracker who joins a makeshift band of characters — including a shapeshifting man-animal — to find a missing boy.

James previously won the Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

David Treuer is shortlisted in the nonfiction category for The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. 

The book is a myth-shattering history of Native America from 1890 — the year of the massacre at Wounded Knee — to the present. Treuer is an award-winning Ojibwe writer from Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota.

Albert Woodfox, alongside Leslie George, are on the shortlist for the memoir Solitary, in which Woodfox recounts spending 44 years and 10 months spent in solitary confinement in Louisiana's Angola Prison.

Arthur Sze's Sight Lines is on the poetry shortlist. The poet's 10th collection is grand in scope, taking on the voices of Thomas Jefferson as well as ceiling lichen.

Carmen Giménez Smith is also shortlisted in the poetry category for Be Recorder, a collection of urgent poems decrying modern-day complacency. Her previous books include Milk and Filth and Cruel Futures.

Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa is shortlisted in the translation category for Death is Hard Work, translated by Leri Price from Arabic. The novel follows three siblings as they embark on a dangerous journey through Syria to fulfil their late father's final wish.

Jason Reynolds is on the young people's literature shortlist for Look Both Ways. The book is 10 stories — one per block — about what happens on the walk home from school.

Reynolds was previously a finalist in 2016 for Ghost and longlisted in 2017 for Long Way Down.

Akwaeke Emezi is nominated for their first YA novel, Pet. The book follows a young girl named Jam, who believes that monsters have gone extinct until a creature named Pet emerges from her mother's painting and a drop of blood.

You can find the complete list of finalists in each category below.




  • The Tradition by Jericho Brown
  • I: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte
  • Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
  • Be Recorder by Carmen Giménez Smith
  • Sight Lines by Arthur Sze

Young people's literature: 

  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds
  • Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
  • Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
  • 1919: The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler


  • Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price
  • Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet
  • The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
  • Crossing by Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston


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