Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are American literary prizes administered by the National Book Foundation. A pantheon of writers such as William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, Alice Walker, E. Annie Proulx, Jesmyn Ward, and Ta-Nehisi Coates have all won National Book Awards.
Although other categories have been recognized in the past, the Awards currently honor the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature, published each year.
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty
The automobile industry has abandoned Vacca Vale, Indiana, leaving the residents behind, too. In a run-down apartment building on the edge of town, commonly known as the Rabbit Hutch, a number of people now reside quietly, looking for ways to live in a dying city. Apartment C2 is lonely and detached. C6 is aging and stuck. C8 harbors an extraordinary fear. But C4 is of particular interest.
Here live four teenagers who have recently aged out of the state foster-care system: three boys and one girl, Blandine, who The Rabbit Hutch centers around. Hauntingly beautiful and unnervingly bright, Blandine is plagued by the structures, people, and places that not only failed her but actively harmed her. Now all Blandine wants is an escape, a true bodily escape like the mystics describe in the books she reads.
South to America by Imani Perry
We all think we know the South. Even those who have never lived there can rattle off a list of signifiers: the Civil War, Gone with the Wind, the Ku Klux Klan, plantations, football, Jim Crow, slavery. But the idiosyncrasies, dispositions, and habits of the region are stranger and more complex than much of the country tends to acknowledge. In South to America, Imani Perry shows that the meaning of American is inextricably linked with the South, and that our understanding of its history and culture is the key to understanding the nation as a whole.
This is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes. Her journey is full of detours, deep dives, and surprising encounters with places and people. She renders Southerners from all walks of life with sensitivity and honesty, sharing her thoughts about a troubling history and the ritual humiliations and joys that characterize so much of Southern life.
Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin translated by Megan McDowell
The seven houses in these seven stories are empty. Some are devoid of love or life or furniture, of people or the truth or of memories. But in Samanta Schweblin’s tense, visionary tales, something always creeps back in: a ghost, a fight, trespassers, a list of things to do before you die, a child’s first encounter with a dark choice or the fallibility of parents.
This was the collection that established Samanta Schweblin at the forefront of a new generation of Latin American writers. And now in English it will push her cult status to new heights. Seven Empty Houses is an entrypoint into a fiercely original mind, and a slingshot into Schweblin’s destablizing, exhilarating literary world.
Punks by John Keene
A landmark collection of poetry by acclaimed fiction writer, translator, and MacArthur Fellow John Keene, Punks: New & Selected Poems is a generous treasury in seven sections that spans decades and includes previously unpublished and brand new work. With depth and breadth, Punks weaves together historic narratives of loss, lust, and love. The many voices that emerge in these poems—from historic Black personalities, both familial and famous, to the poet’s friends and lovers in gay bars and bedrooms—form a cast of characters capable of addressing desire, oppression, AIDS, and grief through sorrowful songs that “we sing as hard as we live.” At home in countless poetic forms, Punks reconfirms John Keene as one of the most important voices in contemporary poetry.
Young People’s Literature
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
Lahore, Pakistan. Then: Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.
Juniper, California. Now: Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.
Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.