Writers of Color Loom Large on National Book Awards Longlist

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Sep 20, 2019

This week, the National Book Foundation announced the titles on its longlist for the 2019 National Book Awards. The categories cover fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature and young people’s literature, and works by people of color are heavy among the contenders.

In the fiction category, writers of color and their imagined worlds lead the list. Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” Laial Lalami’s “The Other Americans,” Susan Choi’s “Trust Exercise,” Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s “Sabrina & Corina: Stories” and Marlon James’ “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” all appear.

The nonfiction list also showcases diverse writers and stories that center social justice. They include “Race for Profit,” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s exploration of racism in the real estate industry; Tressie McMillan Cottom’s essay collection “Thick”; and the historical tome “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” by David Treuer, an Ojibwe writer from the Leech Lake Reservation. Memoirs include “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom and “Solitary” by Albert Woodfox, one of the Angola 3 who spent four decades in solitary confinement prison. And “Go Ahead in the Rain,” Hanif Abdurraqib’s love letter to A Tribe Called Quest, is “the first work centered on hip hop to make the nonfiction list,” according to The Associated Press.

On the poetry front, all of the recognized collections are from indie publishers: Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” Toi Derricotte’s “I,” Camonghne Felix’s “Build Yourself a Boat,” Carmen Giménez Smith’s “Be Recorder” and Ariana Reines’ “A Sand Book.”

Nona Fernández’s “Space Invaders,” Khaled Khalifa’s “Death is Hard Work,” Scholastique Mukasonga’s “The Barefoot Woman,” Eliane Brum’s “The Collector of Leftover Souls” and Yoko Ogawa’s “The Memory Police” all made the translation list. 

And “The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, “Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi, “Look Both Ways” by Jason Reynolds, “A Place to Belong” by Cynthia Kadohata and “Patron Saints of Nothing” by Randy Ribay round out the young people’s books category.

To see the complete longlist, visit the National Book Foundation. Winners will be announced on November 20.