The contenders for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction include novels about American slavery, mental illness, terrorism, post-Civil War America, and a book about a couple on the cusp of marriage that also features a charismatic squirrel.
The 10 nominees were announced on Thursday.
Colson Whitehead’s best-selling novel “The Underground Railroad,” which was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, centers on a slave named Cora who escapes a Georgia plantation and flees north via the underground railroad — a literal subterranean railroad. In Karan Mahajan’s novel “The Association of Small Bombs,” a community in New Delhi struggles to recover from a terrorist attack. Adam Haslett’s “Imagine Me Gone” explores the effects of mental illness on generations of a family. Jacqueline Woodson, who won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, is nominated this year for “Another Brooklyn,” a coming-of-age story set in 1970s Brooklyn, which is her first adult novel in 20 years. Other nominees include Paulette Jiles, Chris Bachelder, Brad Watson, the debut novelist Garth Greenwell and Elizabeth McKenzie, whose novel “The Portable Veblen” features a neurotic soon-to-be married couple and a friendly squirrel, who becomes a sort of sidekick to the novel’s heroine.
Books about war, racism and slavery also dominated the list of nonfiction nominees, which included two books about slavery, by Manisha Sinha and Andrés Reséndez, who wrote about American Indian enslavement, and a history of racism in the United States, by Ibram X. Kendi. Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his novel “The Sympathizer,” was nominated for what he has described as a nonfiction companion to that book, titled “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.” Heather Ann Thompson’s “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” which has been widely praised by critics as an indispensable work about police brutality, racism and mass incarceration, is also among the finalists.
In the Young People’s Literature category, the nominated works address challenging subjects like domestic violence, sexuality, race and class, and how children cope during wartime. The nominees include Kwame Alexander’s “Booked,” Kate DiCamillo’s novel “Raymie Nightingale,” Grace Lin’s “When the Sea Turned to Silver,” and Sara Pennypacker’s “Pax.”
The nominees for poetry included Kevin Young, Monica Youn, Jane Mead, the Pulitzer Prize winner and former poet laureate Rita Dove, and Solmaz Sharif, who recently published her first poetry collection.