• Mike S.

National Book Awards Announced

The National Book Foundation has announced its 2020 National Book Awards. Awards are given in five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People's Literature. The Mill reported the the names of the finalists in each category here.

Charles Yu's novel Interior Chinatown (Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House) took the award in Fiction. The judges of that category described the novel as follows:

"Written in the form of a screenplay with porous boundaries, Yu’s wonderfully inventive work spotlights the welter of obstacles its everyman protagonist must confront in a profoundly racist, rigidly hierarchical world as he does his best—in the story of his own life—to land a decent role."


Mr. Yu has written three books, including How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.




The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X (Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company), by Tamara Payne and Les Payne, won the Nonfiction award. Judges said of the book:

"Les and Tamara Payne refuse a simplistic depiction of Malcolm X, one of our greatest, and most misunderstood, Americans. Malcolm’s story — the rise from “street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary” — is as unlikely as it is profound. Incisive and comprehensive, this intensely human portrait is written with a dedicated beauty and uncompromising detail that matches Malcolm’s own life. The Dead Are Arising is the most accessible and compelling telling of it since the Autobiography."


Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, died in 2018 before the completion of his book. His daughter and chief researcher, Tamara Payne, finished writing the book that has now taken the nonfiction prize.



The Foundation awarded its Poetry prize to Don Mee Choi's DMZ Colony (Wave Books). Judges of the work cited Choi's capturing

"the migratory latticework of those transformed by war and colonization. Homelands present and past share one sky where birds fly, but 'during the Korean War cranes had no place to land.' Devastating and vigilant, this bricolage of survivor accounts, drawings, photographs, and hand-written texts unearth the truth between fact and the critical imagination. We are all 'victims of History,' so Choi compels us to witness, and to resist."


Ms. Choi was born in Seoul, South Korea, and has published two other collections, Hardly War and The Morning News Is Exciting, along with several chapbooks, pamphlets of poetry, and essays.



The prize for Translated Literature was awarded to Yu Miri's (translated by Morgan Giles) Tokyo Ueno Station (Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House). Judges cited the work as

"a welcome and necessary addition to the translated Japanese canon, which unfolds in the memories of a deceased narrator occupying the eponymous train station. The book is an observation of Japan at the gateway of its capital, at multiple thresholds of shifting eras, told in the bardo of a mourning father and compatriot, reciting his surroundings and circumstances as if a prayer, a mantra."


Ms. Miri has written over twenty books and won Japan's most prestigious award, the Akutagawa Prize. In 2011, after the Fukushima catastrophe, she visited the area and interviewed survivors for a radio program. She later moved to Fukushima and opened a bookstore and theater space to further work with those affected by the disaster.


Ms. Giles is a translator and reviewer who resides in London.



The award for Young People's Literature went to Kacen Callender's King and the Dragonflies (Scholastic Press / Scholastic Inc.). Judges said of the book that it

"hooks the reader from its first haunting sentence. Twelve-year-old King’s voice rings true and not a single line feels superfluous. Themes of toxic masculinity, racism, and self-discovery slowly come into focus as King himself begins to understand the layers of hurt and hope in this world. Kacen Callender has created a timeless story that is painfully timely—one that will lodge in your gut and grow."


Ms. Callender's first novel, Hurricane Child, won the 2019 Stonewall Book Award and the 2019 Lambda Literary Award. Kirkus named it as a Best Book of 2018.

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