Last year, as the National Book Foundation staff engaged in preparations for the November ceremony announcing the Winners of the National Book Awards, they were dealt a formidable obstacle when Hurricane Sandy swept through the Lower Manhattan area where they have their offices. Not only did the flooding downtown make usage of the building housing their facilities impossible for a matter of months, it also jeopardized the ceremony itself, as the grand bank building they customarily host the awards at was also within the flood zone; even after the waters receded its availability was uncertain due to prolonged cleanup operations made necessary once the storm rendered the financial district a disaster area. Thus, with their organization homeless for an incalculable duration extending beyond the set date of the annual Gala, an extraordinary diligence and persistence were demanded of NBF personnel while continuing their planning in absentia – which made the festivities-as-usual atmosphere at the Awards on November 14th all the more remarkable once the Cipriani Wall Street Ballroom was once again habitable by that evening.

This year has seen a welcome return to normality in the run-up to the National Book Awards ceremony and benefit dinner, which will take place on November 20th, and for the 54th edition there have been some changes. Most notably, these involve the teams of judges that perform the decision-making in each of the four categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature. While judges previously have always consisted solely of “published writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field, and in some cases, are past National Book Awards Finalists or Winners,” as of 2013 these panels “now may also include other experts in the field such as literary critics, librarians and booksellers.”

Accordingly, the Fiction panel includes former New York Times Book Review editor and former deputy editor of The New Yorker Charles McGrath, and Rick Simonson, a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington for over 35 years, in addition to authors Charles Baxter, Gish Jen and Rene Steinke. Authors Jabari Asmin, M. G. Lord, Lauren Redniss and Eric Sundquist have been augmented on the Nonfiction panel with Andre Bernard, the Vice President and Secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The Poetry Judges include not only poets Nikky Finney, Ada Limon, D. A. Powell and Craig Morgan Teicher, but also Jahan Ramazani, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor at the University of Virginia, whose work includes prizewinning writing on poetry and co-editing of various poetry anthologies. Writers on the panel judging Young People’s Literature include Deb Caletti, Cecil Castellucci and E. Lockhart, and also Lisa Von Drasek, the Curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collections of the University of Minnesota, and Peter Glassman, the author of three picture books as well as owner of Books of Wonder, a leading bookstore for young people’s literature.

In order to be eligible for the Award, a book must be written by an American citizen and published by an American publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year, and must be submitted by publishers rather than authors; self-published books are only eligible of the author/publisher also publishes the work of other authors in addition to his or her own (books published through services such as iUniverse are not eligible). Typically the submitted books per category range from an average of 150 titles in Poetry, to upwards of 500 titles in Nonfiction, and after the panels of judges read all submitted books over the summer, in mid-September they announce a long list of 10 titles per category, which yields a shortlist of five Finalists, announced in mid-October. The 2013 Finalist titles are:


Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers, Scribner/Simon & Schuster

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

James McBride, The Good Lord Bird, Riverhead Books/Penguin Group (USA)

Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge, The Penguin Press/Penguin Group (USA)

George Saunders, Tenth of December, Random House


Jill Lepore, The Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, W.W. Norton & Company

Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House


Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

Adam Matejka, The Big Smoke, Penguin Poets/Penguin Group (USA)

Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture, Louisiana State University Press

Mary Szybist, Incarnadine: Poems, Graywolf Press


Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster

Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster

Tom McNeal, Far Far Away, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group (USA)

Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints, First Second/Macmillan


So, for those of you counting at home, the Finalist totals per publisher are:

Alfred A. Knopf/Random House – 5; all Random House – 6

Penguin Group (USA) – 4

Simon & Schuster – 3

Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 2

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – 1

W.W. Norton & Company – 1

First Second/Macmillan – 1

Louisiana State University Press – 1

Graywolf Press – 1


Over the two days prior to the Awards evening, the National Book Foundation puts on affairs leading up to it. First there is the 5 Under 35 event, now in its eighth year, which celebrates emerging writers in fiction – each of whom are offered a cash award of $1,000, and selected by past National Book Award Winners and Finalists. This invitation only event (“sponsored by generous support from”) will be taking place on November 18 at powerHouse Arena at 37 Main Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, and will be hosted by Carrie Brownstein of “Portlandia,” with bestselling author Colson Whitehead handling DJ duties. The five featured writers – Molly Antopol (The UnAmericans, W.W. Norton & Company), NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names, Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown), Amanda Coplin (The Orchardist, Harper), Daisy Hildyard (Hunters in the Snow, Jonathan Capr, Random House UK), and Merritt Tierce (Love Me Back, Doubleday) – will read from their books, to be followed with a conversation amongst them moderated by Fiona Maazel, a 2008 5 Under 35 author; Julia Fierro, whose debut novel will be published in 2014, will conduct video interviews.

The night before the National Book Awards each Finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a citation from the panel of judges at a private medal ceremony. This is then followed by a Finalist reading, which takes place at Tishman Auditorium at The New School at 7:00; tickets are available to the general public, and can be secured through the New School box office, either by calling 212-229-5488 or online via or the url

Then, on the afternoon of ceremony day the panelists in each category choose the ultimate Winners over lunch; often this decision is determined in advance, but some panels delay arriving at a consensus until the last minute – with no set allotment of wine budgeted to aid in the selection process. This then leads to the ceremony and benefit dinner, where each Winner receives a cash prize of $10,000 and a bronze sculpture; there is also an Award presented for Lifetime Achievement. For more information about the Finalists for the 2013 National Book Awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award Winners, and details about the Awards ceremony, visit the National Book Foundation.