Here’s What to Read for in the National Book Awards

By Jamilah King Oct 15, 2014

The finalists for this year’s National Book Awards were announced Wednesday morning and a handful of writers of color — and books about issues important to communities of color — made the list. Here are six to watch out for, running the gamut from fiction and non-fiction to poetry and young-adult literature.


In fiction, Rabih Alameddine’s "An Unnecessary Woman" follows protagonist Aaliya Sohbi who lives in Beirut and is caught in a mid-life crisis. She’s unconventional — no husband, no kids and not particularly aligned with any religion — but she’s haunted by memories of the Lebanese Civil War. Author Alameddine, is a Lebanese-American writer who was born in Jordan and migrated to California in his teens. 


America is rife with war stories from Afghanistan, but reporter Anand Gopal’s debut book, "No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes," provides an intimate account of the conflict from the Afghani perspective. Gopal previously served as an Afghanistan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor and is currently a fellow at the New America Foundation. 

poetry_rankine_citizen_f.jpgIn "Citizen: An American Lyric," Jamaica-born poet Claudia Rankine recounts everyday microaggressions to document the stress of being black in America. Rankine is currently an English professor at Pomona College and she’s previously won fellowships from the Academy of American Poetry and the National Endowment for the Arts.


In his latest collection of poetry, Fred Moten tries to umpack the the musicality of James Brown and William Parker. Currently a professor of English at the University of California at Riverside, Moten is also the co-founder of a small press called Three Count Pour.


Steve Sheinkin’s "The Port Chiago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights" revisits the 1944 case of 244 mostly black sailors who protested unsafe working conditions and the 50 who were later charged with mutiny. The men had good reason to take a stand: On July 17 of that year, more than 300 sailors at the segregated Navy base of Port Chicago, California, were killed in a massive explosion. 


With "Brown Girl Dreaming," a series of childhood poems, author Jacqueline Woodson offers up a searing take on growing up in South Carolina in the 1960s and 70s. Woodson has also won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults and the Coretta Scott King Award. She lives in Brooklyn.

The awards will be announced on November 19 in New York City. You can also listen to NPR’s announcement of the finalists here: