The National Book Awards are a set of annual U.S. literary awards. At the final National Book Awards Ceremony every November, the National Book Foundation presents the National Book Awards and two lifetime achievement awards to authors.
The National Book Awards were established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association, abandoned during World War II, and re-established by three book industry organizations in 1950. Non-U.S. authors and publishers were eligible for the pre-war awards. Now they are presented to U.S. authors for books published in the United States roughly during the award year.
The nonprofit National Book Foundation was established in 1988 to administer and enhance the National Book Awards and "move beyond [them] into the fields of education and literacy", primarily by sponsoring public appearances by writers. Its mission is "to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture."
In 2018, there were 1,637 books nominated for the five award categories, led by the Nonfiction category with 546 nominations. The 2018 ceremony was held on November 14 in New York City.
|National Book Award|
|Sponsored by||U.S. books industry|
|Hosted by||National Book Foundation|
|First awarded||1950 (1949 publications) and 1936–42 (1935–41)|
National Book Awards are currently given to one book (author) annually in each of five categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people's literature. There have been awards in many other categories but they have been retired or subsumed in the current five. The National Book Foundation also presents two lifetime achievement awards each year: the "Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters" and the "Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community".
Only publishers nominate books for the National Book Awards, but panelists may request particular nominations from publishers. Each panel comprises five judges, including writers, librarians, booksellers, and literary critics. In 2013, the judging panels were expanded to include experts in the literary field in addition to established writers.
Each panel considers hundreds of books each year in each of the five categories. In 2013, the Foundation announced the addition of a National Book Awards longlist—announced in September and consisting of ten titles per category—to precede the finalists list, announced in October and comprising five titles per category. A fifth category, the National Book Award for Translated Literature, was added in 2018, recognizing works in translation for the first time since 1983. At the National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner held in New York City each November, the chair of each judging panel announce the winners of the year's National Book Awards. All finalists receive $1,000, a medal, and a citation written by the judging panel; winners gets $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.
The first National Book Awards were presented in May 1936 at the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, one month after The New York Times reported institution of the "new annual award". The winners were authors of four 1935 books selected by a vote of ABA members. Virginia Kirkus chaired the central committee of seven including the ABA president, three bookshops, Publishers Weekly, and American News Company. Three were called "the most distinguished of 1935" (novel, biography, and general nonfiction) and one "the most original" (novel). Two of the books were advertised by their publishers as "The most distinguished autobiography of 1935" and "The most distinguished general non-fiction book of 1935" in NYTimes on May 12, the same day that the newspaper reported yesterday's awards.[a]
The "Most Distinguished" Nonfiction, Biography, and Novel (for 1935 and 1936) were reduced to two and termed "Favorite" Nonfiction and Fiction beginning 1937. Master of ceremonies Clifton Fadiman declined to consider the Pulitzer Prizes (not yet announced in February 1938) as potential ratifications. "Unlike the Pulitzer Prize committee, the booksellers merely vote for their favorite books. They do not say it is the best book or the one that will elevate the standard of manhood or womanhood. Twenty years from now we can decide which are the masterpieces. This year we can only decide which books we enjoyed reading the most."
The Bookseller Discovery officially recognized "outstanding merit which failed to receive adequate sales and recognition" (quoted by NYT) Finally that award stood alone for 1941 and the New York Times frankly called it "a sort of consolation prize that the booksellers hope will draw attention to his work".
The winning authors and books were selected by a nationwide poll of booksellers (ABA members); during the 1937/38 cycle, ballots were received from 319 stores, triple the number who voted in the first rendition early in 1936. In a 1941 advertisement, the Booksellers described the "significance of the awards" thus:
In effect, his ballot says, "Of all the books of the year these are the three I enjoyed most – in two ways! I enjoyed reading them; and I enjoyed selling them." And that to a bookseller means people who, on his recommendation, read and enjoyed – and sent in other people who also read and enjoyed. The National Book Awards give you perhaps a greater guarantee of reading pleasure than any other literary prizes.
In January 1950 three book industry organizations announced that "works by Americans published here" would be recognized by three awards in March (at the annual convention?). There would be three distinct panels of five judges.
That winter Harper placed several advertisements promoting the awards.
"first annual NBA dinner of the book industry in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Thursday" [March 16] with speakers Senator Paul Douglas, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Lewis Allen. A one-half hour program from the Awards Dinner, including Mrs. Roosevelt's address, was broadcast locally at 9:30 and again at 10:00pm.
In 1950 and 1967, at least, the prize sponsors were three book-industry organizations American Booksellers Association, the American Book Publishers Council and the Book Manufacturers Institute.
In 1973 NYTimes still called the National Book Committee a nonprofit funded "by publishers and by organizations involved in the book trade" A temporary Committee on Awards Policy handled 1975.
In 1964 Nonfiction was divided in three.
Children's literature was first recognized as one of seven categories in 1969.
Two awards were split in 1973 for the first time.
The currently active Poetry category was added in 1991, followed by Young People's Literature in 1996, and Translated Literature in 2018.
In 1980 the "National Book Awards" were canceled and replaced by "American Book Awards" on the film industry model (Oscars). "It will be run almost exactly the way the Academy Awards are run," a spokesman told reporters." There would be nearly 30 awards presented in an extravagant TV-friendly ceremony, to winners selected by a standing "academy" of more than 2,000 people in the book industry. Implementation was poor, the episode a disaster.
Most new categories survived only one to four cycles, 1980 to 1983. There were seven awards categories in 1979, twenty-eight in 1980, nineteen in 1983 (plus graphics awards, see below), three in 1984.
In 1983 there were 30 award winners in 27 categories including 14 categories of literary achievement in writing for adults; in turn, five for hardcover editions, six for paperback editions, and three general.
1983 awards categories (27)
Late that year, the AAP Board voted to fund a new version of the Awards, which had been "close to expiring from lack of support". At the time, AAP and Harper & Row president Brooks Thomas anticipated "probably fewer than ten" categories, including some "only for original paperbacks, not reprints". Edwin McDowell reported that "many book-industry officials hope ... [to] rank in importance with the $15,000 Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction" (British).
For 1983 publications (January to October) there would be no awards. A committee comprising American Book Awards executive director Barbara Prete and four publishers designed the new and improved program, implemented fall 1984 for a publication year beginning November 1983. They cut the roster to merely three (Nonfiction, Fiction, and First Work of Fiction), moved the ceremony from early spring to late fall, and redefined eligibility to require publication during the calendar year of the awards (roughly, see Annual eligibility). There were only fiction and nonfiction awards in 1986.
In 1987 the "National" award returned in name. Covering the November ceremony, Edwin McDowell of The New York Times remarked upon the recurring changes in format and contrasted 1983 in particular, when there were 96 finalists in 27 awards categories (listed above).
The surviving awards for general Fiction and Nonfiction, now with precisely five finalists each, were administered by National Book Awards, Inc., whose Chairman of the Board was the president of Hearst Trade Book Group. He declaimed that "Book people are really not actors, and there's a realization now that we should not try to reward things like who did the best book blurb." The fixed number five finalists was retained through 2012, while the number of book categories has doubled with the addition of Poetry in 1991 and Young People's Literature in 1996. Beginning with 2013, the Foundation announced there would be a "longlist" of 10 titles in each of the four categories in September (40 titles), followed by a "finalist" list of 5 titles in October (20 titles), and then the winners in November (4 titles). In 2018 a fifth award category was announced, an Award for Translated Literature. It is for living translators and authors and for fiction and non-fiction. The foundation previously gave a translation award from 1967-1983, but did not require the author to be living and was for fiction only.
Currently a book must be published "between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year." Its publisher must complete a nomination in the spring and mail copies to the panelists. The panelists read all the valid nominees during this time, and the panels compile shortlists in September.
The pre-war awards were announced in the winter, usually February, and described with reference to the year of publication, if any; for example, "National Book Awards for 1939" announced February 1940. The 1950 to 1983 awards, as the National Book Foundation now labels them, were presented in the spring to works published during the preceding calendar year. From 1984 the NBAs are presented in the fall, usually November, to books published roughly during the current calendar year (December of the previous year through November ).
The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters is a lifetime achievement award presented by the Foundation at the final ceremony for the Book Awards. The medal comes with a cash prize of $10,000. It recognizes someone who "has enriched [American] literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work."
Five of the seventeen medalists through 2004 were previous National Book Award winners (Bellow, Welty, McCullough, Updike, and Roth, all but McCullough for fiction). Between 2005 and 2018, all of the medalists except Leonard and Allende have been previous National Book Award winners.
The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community is a lifetime achievement award presented by the Foundation annually from 2005. It recognizes "an individual for outstanding service to the American literary community, whose life and work exemplify the goals of the National Book Foundation to expand the audience for literature and to enhance the cultural value of literature in America."
Laura Miller, writing in Salon (October 12, 2011), said the fiction award has become a Newbery Medal for adults: Good for you whether you like it or not. She said "the impression has arisen that already-successful titles are automatically sidelined in favor of books that the judges feel deserve an extra boost of attention. the nominated books [often] exhibit qualities – a poetic prose style, elliptical or fragmented storytelling – that either don't matter much to nonprofessional readers, or even put them off." She claims the NBA has become irrelevant to average readers and of more interest to professional writers. Craig Fehrman, writing in The New York Times (October 28, 2011), said "the National Book Awards [are] known for this sort of thing. They're awards for insiders."
In response to these criticisms, the award "has been taking a tough look at itself, hiring a consultant to survey industry insiders – booksellers, editors and even critics – to see if the award process itself needs to be reformed to attract more attention."
A Fable is a 1954 novel written by the American author William Faulkner. He spent more than a decade and tremendous effort on it, and aspired for it to be "the best work of my life and maybe of my time".
It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but critical reviews were mixed and it is considered one of Faulkner's lesser works. Historically, it can be seen as a precursor to Joseph Heller's Catch-22.Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. () is a New York publishing house that was founded by Alfred A. Knopf Sr. and Blanche Knopf in 1915. Blanche and Alfred traveled abroad regularly and were known for publishing European, Asian, and Latin American writers in addition to leading American literary trends. It was acquired by Random House in 1960, which was later acquired by Bertelsmann in 1998, and is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. The Knopf publishing house is associated with its borzoi colophon, which was designed by co-founder Blanche Knopf in 1925.Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy (born Charles McCarthy; July 20, 1933) is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He has written ten novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, Western, and post-apocalyptic genres.
McCarthy's fifth novel, Blood Meridian (1985), was on Time magazine's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language books published since 1923.For All the Pretty Horses (1992), he won both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. His 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and Child of God have also been adapted as motion pictures, while Outer Dark was turned into a 15-minute short.
McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road (2006). In 2010, The Times ranked The Road first on its list of the 100 best fiction and non-fiction books of the past 10 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named McCarthy as one of the four major American novelists of his time, alongside Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth, and called Blood Meridian "the greatest single book since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying".List of winners of the National Book Award
These authors and books have won the annual National Book Awards, awarded to American authors by the National Book Foundation based in the United States.Louis Sachar
Louis Sachar ( SAK-ər; born March 20, 1954) is an American young-adult mystery-comedy author. He is best known for the Wayside School series and the award-winner, Holes.
Holes won the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature
and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".
In 2013, it was ranked sixth among all children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal.Mockingbird (Erskine novel)
Mockingbird is a young adult novel by American author Kathryn Erskine about a autistic girl coping with the loss of her brother. It won the 2010 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature. In 2012 it was awarded the Dolly Gray Children's Literature Award.National Book Award for Fiction
The National Book Award for Fiction is one of four annual National Book Awards, which recognize outstanding literary work by United States citizens. Since 1987 the awards have been administered and presented by the National Book Foundation, but they are awards "by writers to writers". The panelists are five "writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field".General fiction was one of four categories when the awards were re-established in 1950. For several years beginning 1980, prior to the Foundation, there were multiple fiction categories: hardcover, paperback, first novel or first work of fiction; from 1981 to 1983 hardcover and paperback children's fiction; and only in 1980 five awards to mystery fiction, science fiction, and western fiction. When the Foundation celebrated the 60th postwar awards in 2009, all but three of the 77 previous winners in fiction categories were in print. The 77 included all eight 1980 winners but excluded the 1981 to 1983 children's fiction winners.The award recognizes one book written by a U.S. citizen and published in the U.S. from December 1 to November 30. The National Book Foundation accepts nominations from publishers until June 15, requires mailing nominated books to the panelists by August 1, and announces five finalists in October. The winner is announced on the day of the final ceremony in November. The award is $10,000 and a bronze sculpture; other finalists get $1000, a medal, and a citation written by the panel.Authors who have won the award more than once include such noted figures as William Faulkner, John Updike, William Gaddis, and Philip Roth, each having won the award on two occasions along with numerous other nominations.National Book Award for Poetry
The National Book Award for Poetry is one of four annual National Book Awards, which are given by the National Book Foundation to recognize outstanding literary work by US citizens. They are awards "by writers to writers".
The panelists are five "writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field".The category Poetry was established in 1950 and has been awarded annually save the period 1985 to 1990.The award recognizes one book written by a US citizen and published in the US from December 1 to November 30. The National Book Foundation accepts nominations from publishers until June 15, requires mailing nominated books to the panelists by August 1, and announces five finalists in October. The winner is announced on the day of the final ceremony in November. The award is $10,000 and a bronze sculpture; other finalists get $1000, a medal, and a citation written by the panel.There were 148 nominations for the 2010 award.Philip Roth
Philip Milton Roth (March 19, 1933 – May 22, 2018) was an American novelist and short-story writer.
Roth's fiction, regularly set in his birthplace of Newark, New Jersey, is known for its intensely autobiographical character, for philosophically and formally blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, for its "sensual, ingenious style" and for its provocative explorations of American identity.Roth first gained attention with the 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus, for which he received the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. He became one of the most awarded American writers of his generation. His books twice received the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle award, and three times the PEN/Faulkner Award. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel American Pastoral, which featured one of his best-known characters, Nathan Zuckerman, a character in many of Roth's novels. The Human Stain (2000), another Zuckerman novel, was awarded the United Kingdom's WH Smith Literary Award for the best book of the year. In 2001, in Prague, Roth received the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize.Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich is a 1981 novel by John Updike. It is the third novel of the four-part series which begins with Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, and concludes with Rabbit At Rest. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered. Rabbit Is Rich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction
in 1982, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1981. The first-edition hardcover dust jacket for the novel was designed by the author, and is significantly different from the common horizontal-stripe designs used on the other three Rabbit novels. Later printings, including trade paperbacks, feature the trademark stripe motif with stock images of a set of car keys or an image of a late-1970s Japanese automobile.Richard Powers
Richard Powers (born June 18, 1957) is an American novelist whose works explore the effects of modern science and technology. His novel The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction. He has also won many other awards over the course of his career, including a MacArthur Fellowship. As of 2018 Powers has published twelve novels, and has taught at the University of Illinois and Stanford Universities.Ron Chernow
Ronald Chernow (; born March 3, 1949) is an American writer, journalist, historian, and biographer. He has written bestselling and award-winning biographies of historical figures from the world of business, finance, and American politics.
He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the 2011 American History Book Prize for his 2010 book, Washington: A Life. He is also the recipient of the National Book Award for Nonfiction for his 1990 book, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. His biographies of Alexander Hamilton (2004) and John D. Rockefeller (1998) were both nominated for National Book Critics Circle Awards, while the former served as the inspiration for the Hamilton musical, for which Chernow worked as a historical consultant. Another book, The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, was honored with the 1993 George S. Eccles Prize for Excellence in Economic Writing. As a freelance journalist, he has written over 60 articles in national publications.The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter is a book by Katherine Anne Porter published by Harcourt in 1965, comprising nineteen "short stories and long stories", as Porter herself would say. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.Collected Stories, in addition to four exclusive new stories, contains all stories previously collected in Flowering Judas; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; and The Leaning Tower. In the preface "Go Little Book ...", Porter abjured the word "novella", calling it a "slack, boneless, affected word that we do not need to describe anything." She went on to say "Please call my works by their right names: we have four that cover every division: short stories, long stories, short novels, novels."The Color Purple
The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.
Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000–2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence. In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novels."The Fixer (novel)
The Fixer is a novel by Bernard Malamud published in 1966 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction (his second)
and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.The Fixer provides a fictionalized version of the Beilis case. Menahem Mendel Beilis was a Jew unjustly imprisoned in Tsarist Russia. The "Beilis trial" of 1913 caused an international uproar and Beilis was acquitted by a jury.
The book was adapted into a 1968 film of the same name starring Alan Bates (Yakov Bok) who received an Oscar nomination.The Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award
and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its historical context and enduring legacy. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, was released in 1940.The Shipping News
The Shipping News is a novel by American author E. Annie Proulx and published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1993. It won the Pulitzer Prize, the U.S. National Book Award, as well as other awards. It was adapted as a film of the same name which was released in 2001.The Underground Railroad (novel)
The Underground Railroad, published in 2016, is the sixth novel by American author Colson Whitehead.
The alternate history novel tells the story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves in the southeastern United States during the 19th century, who make a bid for freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the Underground Railroad, which the novel depicts as primarily a rail transport system in addition to a series of safe houses and secret routes.The Underground Railroad was a critical and commercial success, hitting the best seller lists and winning several notable prizes. It won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. It was longlisted for The 2017 Man Booker Prize.W. S. Merwin
William Stanley Merwin (September 30, 1927 – March 15, 2019) was an American poet who wrote over fifty books of poetry and prose, and produced many works in translation. During the 1960s anti-war movement, Merwin's unique craft was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration. In the 1980s and 1990s, his writing influence derived from an interest in Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology. Residing in a rural part of Maui, Hawaii, he wrote prolifically and was dedicated to the restoration of the island's rainforests.
Merwin received many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1971 and 2009; the National Book Award for Poetry in 2005, and the Tanning Prize—one of the highest honors bestowed by the Academy of American Poets—as well as the Golden Wreath of the Struga Poetry Evenings. In 2010, the Library of Congress named him the 17th United States Poet Laureate.