Recap: The 2017 National Book Awards Finalist Reading

National Book Awards

BookPal attended the 68th Annual National Book Awards finalist reading. Here are some highlights:

On the streets of downtown New York City, I attended the 68th National Book Awards finalist reading, where prose echoed through Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall at The New School. As a New School alumni, it was my first time back in the halls in years. I felt fortunate to have a ticket to this sold-out event where everyone is a winner. Thanks, New School! The mission of the National Book Foundation, as stated on the bulletin, is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.

On the chilled pavement of 12th Street in New York City, I followed the crowd to a magnificent auditorium where announcers introduced us to quality writing authors. It could not have been a more inspiring night for those of us in the industry.

I entered the lobby of the modern school building, halls I have known well, and found an empty seat toward the back of the auditorium. The lights dimmed, leading to opening remarks by Luis Jaramillo, Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The New School. Next, Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of National Book Foundation, introduced our master of ceremonies, Isaac Fitzgerald and Saeed Jones, co-hosts of BuzzFeed’s news morning show AM to DM.  It wasn’t long before we applauded the first set of authors nominated for excellence in Young People’s Literature. The authors, Elana K. Arnold, Robin Benway, Erika L. Sanchez, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Ibi Zoboi, read directly from their respective works in a display of lively artistry.

Next, we were treated to poems from the books of Frank Bidart, Leslie Harrison, Layli Long-Soldier, Shane McCrae, and Danez Smith, covering a range of topics so pertinent in today’s world. After a brief intermission, we carried through the night with readings in both nonfiction and fiction categories. Against the backdrop of engaged listeners, we heard Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Frances FitzGerald, Masha Gassen, David Grann and Nancy MacLean passionately read their prose in nonfiction. Finally, we enjoyed listening to fiction writers Elliot Ackerman, Lisa Ko, Min Jin Lee, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jsemyn Ward elegantly speak volumes from their works.

It was only appropriate to end the night the way it began — with rampant applause for what all of us in the auditorium recognized as masterful writing and hard work. I had my favorites, a reading list jotted down, and high anticipation to hear who won the following day!

National Book Awards

Here is a complete list of all the finalists for the National Book Awards:


1. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Winner)

2. Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman

3. The Leavers by Lisa Ko

4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

5. Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado


1. The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen (Winner)

2. Never Caught: The Washington’s Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

3. The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald

4. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

5. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean


1. Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart (Winner)

2. The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison

3. WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

4. In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae

5. Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith

Young People’s Literature

1.  Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (Winner)

2. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

3. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

4. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

5. American Street by Ibi Zoboi


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This post was written by Raquel Avila, the sales director of corporate and author services at BookPal. She is currently reading The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

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