Activist state

Gayl Jones and Tommie Smith among National Book Award finalists


This photo combination features “His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, left, and “Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice,” a collaboration between Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile. (Viking/Norton Young Readers via AP)


Gayl Jones’ ‘The Birdcatcher’, a short lyrical novel about a writer’s trip to Ibiza and the gifted, unstable couple she lives with, is a National Book Award finalist for fiction.

The nonprofit National Book Foundation on Tuesday announced five finalists in each of five competitive categories — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s literature and translated books — winnowed among the 10 shortlisted last month.

Nominees include activist and former Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith, a children’s literature nominee for “Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice,” co-written with Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile. Sharon Olds, whose previous accolades include the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Prize, is a poetry finalist for “Balladz” and “His Name Is George Floyd,” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, is a non-fiction nominee.

Jones, author of the famous “Corregidora” and six other previous works of fiction, is the most established writer in a category that includes three first novels.

Nominees for translated books include 2018 winners, Japanese author Yoko Tawada and translator Margaret Mitsutani, for the novel “Scattered All Over the Earth.”

The winners, each receiving $10,000, will be announced Nov. 16 at a fundraising dinner in Manhattan, in person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. The previously announced honorary awards will be presented to cartoonist Art Spiegelman and Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association.

The nominees in each category are selected by juries of five, with judges including authors, publishers, booksellers and other members of the literary community. In total, publishers submitted 1,772 works, including 607 non-fiction books and 463 fiction books.

Of the 25 books nominated on Tuesday, 10 were published by Penguin Random House – the nation’s largest commercial publisher – and one by Simon & Schuster, which Penguin is trying to buy. The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block the merger, alleging that the new company would reduce competition and reduce advances from authors. The judge’s decision is expected this fall.

Along with “The Birdcatcher,” the fiction nominees 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 fiction book, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories”.

In non-fiction, runners-up with “My Name is George Floyd” are Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness,” “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” by Imani Perry, “Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus” by David Quammen and Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ memoir “The Man Who Could Move the Clouds”.

In addition to “Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice,” children’s literature finalists include Kelly Barnhill’s “The Ogress and the Orphans,” Sonora Reyes’ “The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School,” “All My Rage” by Sabaa Tahir and “Maizy Chen’s Last Chance.”

The poetry finalists in addition to “Balladz” are “Look at This Blue” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, “Punks” by John Keene, “Best Barbarian” by Roger Reeves and “The Rupture Tense” by Jenny Xie.

Alongside “Scattered All Over the Earth” in translated literature, “A New Name: Septology VI-VII” by Jon Fosse is nominated, with a translation from Norwegian by Damion Searls. The other finalists are “Kibogo” by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti; “Jawbone” by Mónica Ojeda, translated from Spanish by Sarah Booker; and “Seven Empty Houses” by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell.

This story was originally published October 4, 2022 10:19 a.m.