NEW YORK – Gayl Jones' “The Birdcatcher,” a short, lyrical novel about a writer's trip to Ibiza and the gifted, unstable couple she stays with, is a National Book Award finalist for fiction.
The nonprofit National Book Foundation announced Tuesday five finalists in each of five competitive categories — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature and translated books — winnowed from the 10 longlisted last month.
Nominees include the activist and former Olympics gold medalist Tommie Smith, a young people's literature nominee for “Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice,” co-authored with Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile. Sharon Olds, whose previous honors include the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award, is a poetry finalist for “Balladz," and “His Name Is George Floyd,” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, is a nonfiction nominee.
Jones, author of the acclaimed “Corregidora” and six other previous works of fiction, is the most established writer in a category that features three debut novels.
Nominees for translated books include the 2018 winners, Japanese author Yoko Tawada and translator Margaret Mitsutani, for the novel “Scattered All Over the Earth.”
Winners, each receiving $10,000, will be announced Nov. 16 during a dinner benefit in Manhattan, in person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. The previously announced honorary prizes will be presented to cartoonist Art Spiegelman and Tracie D. Hall, the executive director of the American Library Association.
Each category's nominees are selected by panels of five, with judges including authors, editors, booksellers and other members of the literary community. Altogether, publishers submitted 1,772 works, including 607 nonfiction books and 463 fiction books.
Out of the 25 books nominated Tuesday, 10 were released by Penguin Random House — the country's largest trade publisher — and one by Simon & Schuster, which Penguin is attempting to buy. The U.S. Department of Justice has sued to block the merger, alleging the new company would reduce competition and drive down author advances. A judge's decision is expected this fall.
Fiction nominees besides “The Birdcatcher” include three literary debuts: Tess Gunty's “The Rabbit Hutch,” Sarah Thankam Mathews' “All This Could Be Different” and Alejandro Varela's “The Town of Babylon.” Jamil Jan Kochai is a finalist for his second book of fiction, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories."
In nonfiction, finalists along with “My Name is George Floyd” are Meghan O’Rourke's “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness,” Imani Perry's “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” David Quammen's "Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus" and Ingrid Rojas Contreras' memoir “The Man Who Could Move Clouds.”
In addition to “Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice,” young people's literature finalists include Kelly Barnhill's “The Ogress and the Orphans,” Sonora Reyes's “The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School,” Sabaa Tahir's “All My Rage” and Lisa Yee's “Maizy Chen’s Last Chance.”
Poetry finalists besides “Balladz” are Allison Adelle Hedge Coke's “Look at This Blue,” John Keene's “Punks," Roger Reeves' “Best Barbarian” and Jenny Xie's “The Rupture Tense.”
Alongside “Scattered All Over the Earth” in translated literature, Jon Fosse's “A New Name: Septology VI-VII” is a nominee, with translation from the Norwegian by Damion Searls. The other finalists are Scholastique Mukasonga's “Kibogo,” translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti; Mónica Ojeda's “Jawbone,” translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker; and Samanta Schweblin's "Seven Empty Houses, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.