It’s November and you know what that means! No, I am not talking about Thanksgiving, pumpkin spice, or fall. It’s time for the National Book Foundation to announce the winners for their 2021 National Book Awards. The first National Book Awards was held in 1950 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. It originally started with just fiction, nonfiction, and poetry before adding on science, philosophy and religion, history and biography, arts and letters, translation, contemporary thought, autobiography, first novel, original paperback, and children’s books 10 years later. It was then limited to just fiction and nonfiction before adding on and settling with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature. In 1989 the National Book Foundation started overseeing the National Book Awards.
The winners are announced every November and this year they are being announced on November 17th. Winners are chosen by a panel of five judges in each category. They read each submission in their category and narrow it down to 10 before deciding on the five finalists. Submissions must have been published between December 1st of the previous year and November 30th of the current year and are submitted by the publisher. No one is aware of who won each category until the announcement at the official ceremony. Finalists receive $1,000 and the winners receive $10,000. The winners for this year haven’t been chosen yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t highlight the finalists! This blog post will focus on the fiction category, but finalists for the other categories can be found on their website.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Set in three different time periods, the protagonists find common ground in the story of Aethon. Anna lives in the fifteenth century in Constantinople during the great siege. Her paths cross with Omeir, a village boy who was conscripted into the army. In modern-day Idaho, Zeno is a former prisoner of war teaching children a play of Aethon while a troubled teenager named Seymour is planting a homemade bomb. In the future, Konstance lives abord The Argos and has never been to Earth. She also is familiar with Aethon as she tried to copy the story down from what her father told her. Each of their stories is interwoven as they face a current struggle and find comfort in a book that spans across time.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Maria de France is sent to live at a run-down abbey after she is deemed unfit for marriage. There she becomes close to her sisters and helps to repair the abbey and defeat diseases and hunger that plague the people. She also goes on a journey of faith, questioning hers at first before embracing it fully. Readers commended the writing for being beautifully written and the way it trapped the reader in a different time.
Zorrie by Laird Hunt
This story follows the life of Zorrie after she loses her parents and her aunt, whom she went to live with after the passing of her parents. She travels across the US before finally finding a home in Hillsburg, Indiana. While she tries to begin her new life, she discovers that there is still much for her to overcome. This book is a rather quick read at just 200 pages, but it reflects the entirety of Zorrie’s simple life, and many reviewers have found it to be a satisfying read.
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
Samuel and Isaiah are two slaves who have fallen in love with each other, finding comfort in one another despite their circumstances. This relationship is put in danger when another slave starts preaching the gospel on the plantation and suddenly their love is cast down upon. This book is mainly about the love between Samuel and Isaiah, but other characters are given voices as well. Many readers have commended the powerful storytelling in this book and its depiction of slavery. It gives a new light to not only the treatment slaves received but also the struggle of being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community on top of that.
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
This book features an un-named wildly successful African American author on a book tour to promote his book, Hell of a Book. He has a condition that causes him to see The Kid throughout his book tour, only visible to him. Parallel to that is Soot, a young African American boy living in an urban town who was taught to be “invisible” by his parents to keep him safe. Soot experiences bullying at school due to the color of his skin. The book depicts the journey of these two characters with the main theme being what it’s like to be black in America, including dealing with police brutality. Many readers commended the book for its depiction of the black experience and the masterful tale that Jason Mott has weaved.
Be sure to check out the finalists for the other categories and find out who the winners are on November 17th!