interior Chinatown and The Dead Are Arising
Credit: Penguin Randomhouse; Liveright

In the strangest of years, during the strangest of awards seasons, the love of the book was able to shine through.

The National Book Awards, which are typically held in person, in full black-tie regalia and — most importantly — with an open bar and dance floor, pivoted to a virtual format like most everything else in 2020. Host Jason Reynolds, himself a former National Book Awards Finalist for Young People's Literature, held court in Washington, D.C., while outgoing National Book Foundation Director Lisa Lucas broadcast her portion from the Los Angeles Public Library. The rest of the audience watched the festivities via Zoom from around the country, as the winners were announced and authors read acceptance speeches from their homes.

In the fiction category, Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind seemed to rule the pack if you measure by social chatter alone, with Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain nabbing nominations for both the Booker Prize and the NBA. Roxane Gay presented the award (from her apartment, of course) to Westworld writer Charles Yu for his novel Interior Chinatown, his highly meta novel that explores Asian American stereotypes in pop culture. "I can't feel anything in my body right now," he told the virtual crowd upon learning about his win. "I prepared nothing."

In the nonfiction category, the finalists covered topics from the life of Malcolm X to the dispossession of Native Americans. It was Les Payne and Tamara Payne's The Dead Are Arising, which captivated the voting body enough to take home the National Book Award for nonfiction. Tamara Payne accepted on behalf of the book that she penned along with her late father, reading a statement that she prepared through visible emotions, calling out the ways in which the message of Malcolm X still rings true today.

See the full list of National Book Award finalists and winners below:


Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (winner)

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart


The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (winner)

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt

My Autobiography of Carson McCullors by Jenn Shapland

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker


Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri and Morgan Giles (winner)

High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann and Anne Posten

The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri and Alice Menzies

The Bitch by Pilar Quintana and Lisa Dillman

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli and Elisabeth Jaquette


King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (winner)

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

When Stars are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson

The Way Back by Gabriel Savit

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