Books about race and the struggle for equality feature prominently among the finalists for the National Book Awards announced Tuesday. The 25 honored titles include a satire of Hollywood’s Asian American stereotypes, a history of the forced relocation of Native Americans, a biography of Malcolm X and a YA novel about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Selected from almost 1,700 submissions in five categories — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature and translated literature — the finalists are a strikingly fresh group: None of the authors has been a finalist for a National Book Award before, and almost a third are debuts. One of those debut authors, Scottish American writer Douglas Stuart, has impressed judges on both sides of the Atlantic. Stuart’s novel, “Shuggie Bain,” about a family in Glasgow, is now a finalist for a National Book Award, a Kirkus Prize and the Booker Prize.

Due to the pandemic, the National Book Awards ceremony, usually the country’s glitziest literary event, will be conducted entirely online on Nov. 18. The winners will receive $10,000 each (for the Translated Literature prize, the money is split with the translator); the finalists will receive $1,000 a piece. During the ceremony, novelist Walter Mosley will formally receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the late Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy will be honored with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Here is the complete list of finalists:


●“Leave the World Behind,” Rumaan Alam (Ecco) (review)

●“A Children’s Bible,” by Lydia Millet (W.W. Norton) (review)

●“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,” by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia Univ. Press )

●“Shuggie Bain,” by Douglas Stuart (Grove) (review)

●“Interior Chinatown,” by Charles Yu (Pantheon) (review)


●“The Undocumented Americans,” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (One World)

●“The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright)

●“Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory,” by Claudio Saunt (W.W. Norton) (review)

●“My Autobiography of Carson McCullers,” by Jenn Shapland (Tin House)

●“How to Make a Slave and Other Essays,” by Jerald Walker (Mad Creek)

Young People’s Literature

●“King and the Dragonflies,” by Kacen Callender (Scholastic)

●“We Are Not Free,” by Traci Chee (HMH)

●“Every Body Looking,” by Candice Iloh (Dutton Books for Young Readers)

●“When Stars Are Scattered,” by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial Books for Young Readers)

●“The Way Back,” by Gavriel Savit (Knopf Books for Young Readers)


●“A Treatise on Stars,” by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions)

●“Fantasia for the Man in Blue,” by Tommye Blount (Four Way)

●“DMZ Colony,” by Don Mee Choi (Wave)

●“Borderland Apocrypha,” by Anthony Cody (Omnidawn)

●“Postcolonial Love Poem,” by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf)

Translated Literature

●“High as the Waters Rise,” by Anja Kampmann, translated from the German by Anne Posten (Catapult)

●“The Family Clause,” by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies (FSG)

●“Tokyo Ueno Station,” by Yu Miri, translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles (Riverhead) (review)

●“The Bitch,” by Pilar Quintana, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (World Editions)

●“Minor Detail,” by Adania Shibli, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (New Directions)

Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts