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Finalists Unveiled For This Year's National Book Awards

2015 National Book Awards finalists.
2015 National Book Awards finalists.

Shortlists for the National Book Awards went public Wednesday, halving the number of nominees to just 20 finalists. Among the books that have survived the second round of cuts, a few clear favorites are beginning to emerge — while others have been displaced by less familiar names.

The full lists of finalists can be found below.

On the fiction side, Hanya Yanagihara's novel A Little Life adds to a stellar record so far this literary awards season. The tome — which NPR's John Powers calls "a wrenching portrait of the enduring grace of friendship" — has already earned a spot on the shortlists for the Man Booker and Kirkus prizes.

Joining Yanagihara's novel are Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies — "a master class in best lines," says reviewer Jason Sheehan — and Fortune Smiles, a globe-trotting collection of stories from Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson. Karen E. Bender's collection Refund and Angela Flournoy's The Turner House round out the fiction list.

All of the writers on the fiction shortlist are first-time finalists for the National Book Award.

Given the kind of year that Ta-Nehisi Coates has been having, it would be tough to consider his Between the World and Me anything less than a favorite to win the nonfiction prize — though photographer Sally Mann's Hold Still, a memoir threaded with photos, could be considered a close second for that distinction. Like Mann, Tracy K. Smith also comes to nonfiction from another genre, having previously won a Pulitzer for poetry; Ordinary Light is her first memoir.

Meanwhile, among the poets themselves, Rowan Ricardo Phillips' absence from the list is sure to surprise some — while Terrance Hayes' inclusion, for How to Be Drawn, should surprise no one. The celebrated poet has been here before, with an NBA win just five years ago. Robin Coste Lewis, however, is new here — with Voyage of the Sable Venus, a debut she published while still a student (getting her Ph.D.).

Yet she's not the youngest writer on this list. Noelle Stevenson, in her early 20s, may take that honor. Her comic Nimona, which first developed as a biweekly post on the Web, earned a spot on the slate of finalists for young people's literature.

Winners in each category will receive a bronze sculpture and a purse of $10,000, at a ceremony in New York City on Nov. 18.

National Book Awards Finalists


Karen E. Bender, Refund
Angela Flournoy, The Turner House
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Sally Mann, Hold Still
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus
Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran
Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light


Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn
Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things
Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine

Young People's Literature

Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap
Steve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep
Noelle Stevenson, Nimona

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.