Get to Know the National Book Award Nominees
Ten beautiful collections here demand your looking—the longlist of the National Book Awards is out and the nominees represent emerging and established poets from all across America. For your poetheart’s perusal, we’ve gathered together some useful info on each of the ten nominees.
This dense volume of poetry has been building itself over decades, and its pages are pressed full with celebrated poems from every corner of the literary community. From Booklist’s starred review:
“Bidart’s poems strive, more than anything else, to present particular voices speaking . . . more than to express meaning. But meaning there is, of course, concerning love, death, conflict, ambition, and disappointment, found between lacunae and jump cuts like in a Godard movie or an Eliot poem.”
“Our words/ will be weirdly jolly.// That light I now envy/ exists only on this page.” —from “Half-Light”
Official Bio: Frank Bidart is the author of Metaphysical Dog, Watching the Spring Festival, Star Dust, Desire, and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90. He has won many prizes, including the Wallace Stevens Award, the 2007 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
We have been blessed with amazing debuts these past seasons, and Chen Chen’s book is one of the most distinguished yet. From Publishers Weekly’s starred review:
“As a gay, Asian-American poet, Chen casts his poems as both a refusal of the shame of sexuality and of centering whiteness or treating it as a highly desirable trait. Readers encounter sharp, delightful turns between poems, as Chen shifts from elegy to ode and back again. . . . Moving between whimsy and sobriety, Chen both exhibits and defies vulnerability—an acute reminder that there are countless further possibilities.”
“To be a more comfortable/ hospital bed for my mother. To be// no more hospital beds.” —from “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities”
Official Bio: Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), which was long-listed for the National Book Award. He is a PhD student at Texas Tech University and lives in Lubbock, Texas.
Published by BOA Editions Ltd.
“I love etymology. Words mean and mean and mean. I was writing god poems, which was utterly shocking to me—religion has not been on my radar pretty much ever except as a system of knowledge, Linnaean almost, maybe a taxonomy of suffering. I think I wanted to acknowledge that neither the tool (language) nor the tool user have the capacity for telling the truth. Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, we catch a flicker of something.”
“you must learn to distrust something language me the ravine/ harrowed deep between what flickers in the mind and what/ stumbles daily into language the way I stumble into woods”—from “[What I mean]”
Official Bio: Leslie Harrison is the author of The Book of Endings and Displacement. She was born in Germany and raised mostly in New Hampshire. She holds graduate degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and The University of California, Irvine. Her poems have appeared in journals including Poetry, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, FIELD, Subtropics, Pleiades, Orion and elsewhere. She teaches at Towson University.
Published by University of Akron Press.
Magdalene seems to be one of the most imaginative books to make the list, bringing the spiritual past to present life. As Nick Flynn puts it:
“Marie Howe has always come as close as any poet since Rilke to touching eternity, simply by stretching out her hand and believing that something exists beyond her grasp, beyond her knowing. Here, with Magdalene, she somehow goes even deeper, into what it is to both be alive and a manifestation of the divine. I am, once again, in awe of her powers, at their fullest here.”
“The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer/ of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.”—from Magdalene: The Seven Devils
Official Bio: Marie Howe is the author of four volumes of poetry: Magdalene: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2017); The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others.
Published by W. W. Norton & Company.
Laura Kasischke is not unfamiliar with awards or accolades—her poetry has been rightfully earning positive attention since Space, in Chains. Her new collection is essential, according to its publisher, Copper Canyon Press:
“Laura Kasischke’s long-awaited selected poems, Where Now, presents the breadth of her probing vision that notices then subverts the so-called “normal.” A lover of fairy tales, Kasischke showcases her command of the symbolic, with a keen attention to sound in her exploration of the everyday—whether reflections on loss or the complicated realities of childhood and family. “
“It’s the murderer who got away with it, sitting/ on a park bench, thinking about snow”—from March
Official Bio: Laura Kasischke is a poet and novelist whose fiction has been made into several feature-length films. Her book of poems, Space, in Chains, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She currently teaches at the University of Michigan and lives in Chelsea, Michigan.
Published by Copper Canyon Press.
Layli Long Soldier’s debut collection blazed across the poetry community, opening up many readers to the hidden realities of a life and community pushed to the margins. One of our favorite poets, Fred Moten, has this to say about it:
“WHEREAS is a new offering of the deepest precedent. This gift of where as else, which no one could possibly ask for or deserve, bears and is borne by terrible and absolute testimony. Look at how we have laid waste, and how nothing in this book settles. With Long Soldier, in the interminable momentousness of her song, poetry itself is somewhere else. Maybe we can get there from there.”
“Whereas under starlight the fireflies wink across East Coast grass and me I sit there painful in my silence glued to a bench in the midst of the American casual;”—from “WHEREAS”
Official Bio: Layli Long Soldier earned a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA with honors from Bard College. She is the author of the chapbook Chromosomory (2010) and the forthcoming Whereas (2017). She has been a contributing editor to Drunken Boat and is poetry editor at Kore Press; in 2012, her participatory installation, Whereas We Respond, was featured on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 2015, Long Soldier was awarded a National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry. A citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Long Soldier lives in Tsaile, Arizona, in the Navajo Nation, with her husband and daughter. She is an adjunct faculty member at Diné College.
Published by Graywolf Press.
Shane McCrae is a beautifully sophisticated poet who first haunted our editors with his book Forgiveness Forgiveness. The nod for In the Language of My Captor, his latest collection, is well deserved, as said by Publishers Weekly:
“McCrae continues his confrontations with American racism in his superb … fifth collection. With a raw honesty, McCrae refuses to shy away from the effects of oppression and faces up to those not willing to acknowledge their part in a history many want to forget.”
“by privacy he means / This/ certainty he has that/ The weapons he has made/ Will not be used against him”—from “Privacy 2”
Official Bio: McCrae is the author of several poetry collections, including Mule (2011), Blood (2013), and The Animal Too Big to Kill (2015); his work has also been featured in The Best American Poetry 2010, edited by Amy Gerstler. His honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Published by Wesleyan.
This is not Sherod Santos’s first time on the Longlist. Enough said. We’ll let David Baker take it from here:
“In Square Inch Hours Sherod Santos brilliantly negotiates the provinces of poetry and prose, of imagination and memoir, in devastating documents that range from fragments to sustained prose sequences. These are the lyrics of breakdown―of shock and aftershock―in coming face-to-face with dread and the depths of one’s own soul.”
“Put on her clothes, and shake/ Her hair out in no time/ Which slips off into the past,/ Or future, into nothing”—from “Work”
Official Bio: Sherod Santos is the author of seven books of poetry. A National Book Award finalist, he received an Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Chicago, where he works in an outreach program for the homeless.
Published byW. W. Norton & Company.
Danez Smith has been burning bright since his [insert] boy, and this newest collection only improves on what has already made Smith successful. Our National Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith glows about it:
“Danez Smith’s is a voice we need now more than ever as living, feeling, complex, and conflicted beings. These poems of love extend beyond the erotic into the struggle for unity―not despite the realities of race but precisely because of what race has caused us to make of and do to one another. Don’t Call Us Dead gives me a dose of hope at a time when such a thing feels hard to come by. This is a mighty work, and a tremendous offering.”
“if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call/ us dead, call us alive someplace better.”—from “summer, somewhere”
Official Bio: Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Don’t Call Us Dead. Smith has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, and lives in Minneapolis.
Published by Graywolf Press.
We are so happy to see Mai Der Vang make the list this year. Her work has been an inspiration for us since we launched Frontier. From our review:
“Mai Der Vang’s voice is uniquely mature for a debut collection, with undeniable authority over her language. Seductive in its other-worldliness—though threatening too—Afterland is not a rural homespun collection of middle America. These poems of the dark primary voice lurking in hearts everywhere, waiting as witness for the inevitable violence, and the inevitable hope. The language will haunt you, the broken images will attach themselves to the back of your mind with their sharp, crooked edges.”
“Say a rooster is my mother./ Say there is a coffin in its body/ That can only fit my skull./ Say I find a lighthouse burning/ In a cave. Smoke above/ The field of broken feathers”—from “Toward Home”
Official Bio: Mai Der Vang is the author of Afterland, which received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She will serve as a 2017-2018 Visiting Writer on the faculty of the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, New Republic, and elsewhere. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. Mai Der’s work has also been anthologized in Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora. As an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, she is co-editor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. Mai Der has received residencies from Hedgebrook and is a Kundiman fellow. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, along with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing/Poetry from Columbia University. Mai Der was born and raised in Fresno, California.
Published by Graywolf Press.