Spotlight: Judges from the National Book Awards

The National Book Award winners were announced yesterday and we were excited to highlight two of the eventual winners in our piece last week (even if our overall prediction was a fraction off). We were interested in the judges’ decisions and decided to do a little snooping on what else they’d been reading…

With 15 judges (five for each category), we randomly handpicked five and cast a spotlight on their works.


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In a world where technology rules, moments of human ecstasy become fleeting and rare. The poems of Eileen Myles’ Snowflake / different streets are vivid and effortlessly gorgeous, much like Louise Gluck’s Faithful and Virtuous Night. Both poets forgo any mentionings of electronics, rather focusing on transforming everyday happenings into dream-like and fantastical events.

Eileen Myles is an expert at poetry and prose. With several books out—including The Importance of Being Iceland, and Inferno— if anyone is qualified to be a judge for poetry, it’s Eileen.

Young People’s Literature

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Sharon M. Draper’s Out of My Mind features a heroine named Melody who is smart as a whip and possesses a photographic memory—however, she cannot walk or talk due to her cerebral palsy. Get to know a brilliant mind that will change forever the way others looks at anyone with a disability.

Perhaps a connection was established between Draper and Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming— both of their novels feature young protagonists who struggle to find their place in the world, despite obstacles such as skin color and disabilities.

Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator and successful writer of over thirty award-winning books for children and teachers, including Copper Sun, winner of the 2007 Coretta Scott King Award. She currently serves as a literary ambassador to the children of Africa and China.


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Geraldine Brooks’ March is a lushly written story about an absent father. Follow March as he leaves his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War, and dive headfirst into another time, where March’s experiences will not only alter his marriage, but his beliefs as well.

While March is focused on a soldier going off to war, Phil Klay’s Redployment is about a soldier who returns. Perhaps Brooks felt an affinity towards the first-time novelist- -Klay was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq, and Brooks was a foreign correspondent who covered crises in the Middle East.

Geraldine Brooks won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, March. A former foreign correspondent, she started off writing nonfiction before making the transition to novels.


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Tom Reiss’ The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life may not be a work of fantasy—this bestseller tells the true story of a Jew who transformed himself into a Muslim prince in Nazi Germany—but at times it’s hard to tell. Get wrapped up in the life of Lev Nussimbaum, who escaped the Russian Revolution only to be known as “Essad Bey”—celebrated author, adventurer, and real-life Indiana Jones, but with a dangerous secret.

Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China delves deeply into the lives of ordinary and powerful people who are remaking their lives as the country is changing, as does The Orientalist.

Tom Reiss has been featured in The New Yorker and The New York Times. His most recent novel, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, and his books have been translated into over 25 languages.

Have you read any of these books? Are you as excited as we are to find out who the recipients are for the National Book Awards? Let us know, and check out the full list of judges here.

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