The National Book Awards are a set of annual U.S. literary
awards. At the final National Book Awards Ceremony every
National Book Foundation presents the National Book
Awards and two lifetime achievement awards to authors.
The National Book Awards were established in 1936 by the American
Booksellers Association, abandoned during World War II, and
re-established by three book industry organizations in 1950. Non-U.S.
authors and publishers were eligible for the pre-war awards. Now they
are presented to U.S. authors for books published in the United States
roughly during the award year.
National Book Foundation was established in 1988 to
administer and enhance the National Book Awards and "move beyond
[them] into the fields of education and literacy", primarily by
sponsoring public appearances by writers. Its mission is "to
celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and
to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America."
In 2010, there were 1,115 books nominated for the four award
categories, led by the
Nonfiction category with 435 nominations. The
2011 ceremony was held on November 16 in New York City.
1 Winners and finalists
2 Current process
3.1 Pre-war awards by booksellers
3.2 Reestablished by the book industry
3.3 New categories and split awards
3.4 "American Book Awards"
4 Annual eligibility
5 Medal for Distinguished Contribution (lifetime)
6 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service (lifetime)
8 See also
11 External links
Winners and finalists
List of winners of the National Book Award, winners only.
National Book Award for Fiction, winners and finalists.
National Book Award for Nonfiction, winners and finalists.
National Book Award for Poetry, winners and finalists.
National Book Award for Young People's Literature, winners and
National Book Awards are currently given to one book (author) annually
in each of four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young
people's literature. There have been awards in many other categories
but they have been retired or subsumed in the current four. The
National Book Foundation also presents two lifetime achievement awards
each year: the "Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American
Letters" and the "Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the
American Literary Community".
Only publishers nominate books for the NBAs but panelists may request
particular nominations from publishers. Each panel comprises five
judges, including writers, librarians, booksellers, and literary
critics. In 2013, the judging panels were expanded to include experts
in the literary field in addition to established writers. 
Each panel considers hundreds of books each year in each of the four
categories. Beginning with 2013, the Foundation announced a "longlist"
of 10 titles in each of the four categories in September (40 titles),
followed by a "finalist" list of 5 titles in October (20 titles), and
then the winners in November (4 titles). Previous to 2013, there
was no longlist and only five finalists per category were announced in
October. Panel chairs announce the winners and present the awards at
the "National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner" held in New York City
each November. All finalists get $1,000, a medal, and a citation
written by the panel; winners gets $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.
Pre-war awards by booksellers
The first National Book Awards were presented in May 1936 at the
annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, one month
after The New York Times reported institution of the "new annual
award". The winners were authors of four 1935 books selected by a vote
of ABA members.
Virginia Kirkus chaired the central committee of seven
including the ABA president, three bookshops, Publishers Weekly, and
American News Company. Three were called "the most distinguished of
1935" (novel, biography, and general nonfiction) and one "the most
original" (novel). Two of the books were advertised by their
publishers as "The most distinguished autobiography of 1935" and "The
most distinguished general non-fiction book of 1935" in NYTimes on May
12, the same day that the newspaper reported yesterday's awards.[a]
For the next six years, 1937 to 1942, the awards were announced
mid-February to March 1 and evidently presented at the May
The "Most Distinguished" Nonfiction, Biography, and Novel (for 1935
and 1936) were reduced to two and termed "Favorite"
Fiction beginning 1937. Master of ceremonies Clifton
Fadiman declined to consider the Pulitzer Prizes (not yet announced in
February 1938) as potential ratifications. "Unlike the Pulitzer Prize
committee, the booksellers merely vote for their favorite books. They
do not say it is the best book or the one that will elevate the
standard of manhood or womanhood. Twenty years from now we can decide
which are the masterpieces. This year we can only decide which books
we enjoyed reading the most."
The Bookseller Discovery officially recognized "outstanding merit
which failed to receive adequate sales and recognition" (quoted by
NYT) Finally that award stood alone for 1941 and the New York
Times frankly called it "a sort of consolation prize that the
booksellers hope will draw attention to his work".
The winning authors and books were selected by a nationwide poll of
booksellers (ABA members); during the 1937/38 cycle, ballots were
received from 319 stores, triple the number who voted in the first
rendition early in 1936. In a 1941 advertisement, the Booksellers
described the "significance of the awards" thus:
In effect, his ballot says, "Of all the books of the year these are
the three I enjoyed most – in two ways! I enjoyed reading them; and
I enjoyed selling them." And that to a bookseller means people who, on
his recommendation, read and enjoyed – and sent in other people who
also read and enjoyed. The National Book Awards give you perhaps a
greater guarantee of reading pleasure than any other literary prizes.
Reestablished by the book industry
In January 1950 three book industry organizations announced that
"works by Americans published here" would be recognized by three
awards in March (at the annual convention?). There would be three
distinct panels of five judges.
That winter Harper placed several advertisements promoting the
"first annual NBA dinner of the book industry in the Waldorf-Astoria
Hotel on Thursday" [March 16] with speakers Senator Paul Douglas,
Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Lewis Allen. A one-half hour program
from the Awards Dinner, including Mrs. Roosevelt's address, was
broadcast locally at 9:30 and again at 10:00pm.
The awards were administered by the National Book Committee from 1950
to 1974, when the Committee disbanded after publishers withdrew
In 1950 and 1967, at least, the prize sponsors were three
book-industry organizations American Booksellers Association, the
American Book Publishers Council and the Book Manufacturers
In 1973 NYTimes still called the National Book Committee a nonprofit
funded "by publishers and by organizations involved in the book
trade" A temporary Committee on Awards Policy handled 1975.
New categories and split awards
Nonfiction was divided in three.
National Book Award for Translation was introduced in 1967 and
split between two books, the first split.
Children's literature was first recognized as one of seven categories
Two awards were split in 1973 for the first time.
Publishers dropped their support after 1974 and the National Book
Committee was disbanded. In 1975 the temporary administrator
"begged" judges not to split awards.
Three of 27 awards were split in 1983 before the drastic cutback
that also required selection of a single winner in all three
categories for 1984.
"American Book Awards"
In 1980 the "National Book Awards" were canceled and replaced by
"American Book Awards" on the film industry model (Oscars). "It will
be run almost exactly the way the Academy Awards are run," a spokesman
told reporters." There would be nearly 30 awards presented in an
extravagant TV-friendly ceremony, to winners selected by a standing
"academy" of more than 2,000 people in the book industry.
Implementation was poor, the episode a disaster.
Most new categories survived only one to four cycles, 1980 to 1983.
There were seven awards categories in 1979, twenty-eight in 1980,
nineteen in 1983 (plus graphics awards, see below), three in
In 1983 there were 30 award winners in 27 categories including 14
categories of literary achievement in writing for adults; in turn,
five for hardcover editions, six for paperback editions, and three
1983 awards categories (27)
8 for graphics: Pictorial Design, Typographical Design, Illustration
Collected Art, Illustration Original Art, Illustration Photographs,
Cover Design, Jacket Design[b]
5 for children's literature: (Children's)
Fiction hardcover and
paperback, Nonfiction, Picture Books hardcover and paperback
14 for adults' literature: General
Nonfiction hardcover and paperback,
History hardcover and paperback, Biography hardcover and paperback,
Science hardcover and paperback, Translation,
Fiction hardcover and
paperback, Poetry, First Novel, Original Paperback
Late that year, the AAP Board voted to fund a new version of the
Awards, which had been "close to expiring from lack of support". At
the time, AAP and Harper & Row president Brooks Thomas anticipated
"probably fewer than ten" categories, including some "only for
original paperbacks, not reprints". Edwin McDowell reported that "many
book-industry officials hope ... [to] rank in importance with the
$15,000 Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction" (British).
For 1983 publications (January to October) there would be no awards. A
American Book Awards executive director Barbara
Prete and four publishers designed the new and improved program,
implemented fall 1984 for a publication year beginning November 1983.
They cut the roster to merely three (Nonfiction, Fiction, and First
Work of Fiction), moved the ceremony from early spring to late fall,
and redefined eligibility to require publication during the calendar
year of the awards (roughly, see Annual eligibility). There were
only fiction and nonfiction awards in 1986.
In 1987 the "National" award returned in name. Covering the November
ceremony, Edwin McDowell of The New York Times remarked upon the
recurring changes in format and contrasted 1983 in particular, when
there were 96 finalists in 27 awards categories (listed above).
The surviving awards for general
Fiction and Nonfiction, now with
precisely five finalists each, were administered by National Book
Awards, Inc., whose Chairman of the Board was the president of Hearst
Trade Book Group. He declaimed that "Book people are really not
actors, and there's a realization now that we should not try to reward
things like who did the best book blurb." The fixed number five
finalists was retained through 2012, while the number of book
categories has doubled with the addition of
Poetry in 1991 and Young
People's Literature in 1996. Beginning with 2013, the Foundation
announced there would be a "longlist" of 10 titles in each of the four
categories in September (40 titles), followed by a "finalist" list of
5 titles in October (20 titles), and then the winners in November (4
titles). In 2018 a fifth award category was announced, an Award
for Translated Literature. It is for living translators and
authors and for fiction and non-fiction. The foundation previously
gave a translation award from 1967-1983, but did not require the
author to be living and was for fiction only.
Currently a book must be published "between December 1 of the previous
year and November 30 of the current year." Its publisher must complete
a nomination in the spring and mail copies to the panelists. The
panelists read all the valid nominees during this time, and the panels
compile shortlists in September. 
The pre-war awards were announced in the winter, usually February, and
described with reference to the year of publication, if any; for
example, "National Book Awards for 1939" announced February 1940.
The 1950 to 1983 awards, as the
National Book Foundation now labels
them, were presented in the spring to works published during the
preceding calendar year. From 1984 the NBAs are presented in
the fall, usually November, to books published roughly during the
current calendar year (December of the previous year through November
Medal for Distinguished Contribution (lifetime)
The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters is a
lifetime achievement award presented by the Foundation at the final
ceremony for the Book Awards. The medal comes with a cash prize of
$10,000. It recognizes someone who "has enriched [American] literary
heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work."
1988: Jason Epstein
1989: Daniel Boorstin
1990: Saul Bellow
1991: Eudora Welty
1992: James Laughlin
1993: Clifton Fadiman
1994: Gwendolyn Brooks
1995: David McCullough
1996: Toni Morrison
1997: Studs Terkel
1998: John Updike
1999: Oprah Winfrey
2000: Ray Bradbury
2001: Arthur Miller
2002: Philip Roth
2003: Stephen King
2004: Judy Blume
2005: Norman Mailer
2006: Adrienne Rich
2007: Joan Didion
2008: Maxine Hong Kingston
2009: Gore Vidal
2010: Tom Wolfe
2011: John Ashbery
2012: Elmore Leonard
2013: E. L. Doctorow
2014: Ursula Le Guin
2015: Don DeLillo
Robert Caro 
Five of the seventeen medalists through 2004 were previous National
Book Award winners (Bellow, Welty, McCullough, Updike, and Roth, all
but McCullough for fiction). Between 2005 and 2016, all of the
medalists except Leonard have been previous National Book Award
Literarian Award for Outstanding Service (lifetime)
The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary
Community is a lifetime achievement award presented by the Foundation
annually from 2005. It recognizes "an individual for outstanding
service to the American literary community, whose life and work
exemplify the goals of the
National Book Foundation to expand the
audience for literature and to enhance the cultural value of
literature in America."
2005: Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Robert B. Silvers
Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
2007: Terry Gross
2008: Barney Rosset
2009: Dave Eggers
2010: Joan Ganz Cooney
2011: Mitchell Kaplan
2012: Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
2013: Maya Angelou
2014: Kyle Zimmer
2015: James Patterson
2016: Cave Canem
Laura Miller, writing in Salon (October 12, 2011), said the fiction
award has become a
Newbery Medal for adults: Good for you whether you
like it or not. She said "the impression has arisen that
already-successful titles are automatically sidelined in favor of
books that the judges feel deserve an extra boost of attention. the
nominated books [often] exhibit qualities – a poetic prose style,
elliptical or fragmented storytelling – that either don’t matter
much to nonprofessional readers, or even put them off." She claims the
NBA has become irrelevant to average readers and of more interest to
professional writers. Craig Fehrman, writing in The New York Times
(October 28, 2011), said "the National Book Awards [are] known for
this sort of thing. They're awards for insiders."
In response to these criticisms, the award "has been taking a tough
look at itself, hiring a consultant to survey industry insiders –
booksellers, editors and even critics – to see if the award process
itself needs to be reformed to attract more attention."
Children and Young Adult Literature portal
Nautilus Book Awards
American Book Awards
Man Booker Prize
Gelett Burgess Children's Book Awards
Commonwealth Writers Prize
Costa Book Awards, formerly the Whitbread Book Awards
Governor General's Award
Innovations in Reading Prize
^ Both on page 21: Vincent Sheean's autobiography Personal History
advertised by Doubleday, Doran; Anne Morrow Lindbergh's North to the
Orient advertised by Harcourt, Brace & Co.
By 1937/38, if not earlier, there would be "National Book Award
Editions" of some books.
^ Only seven graphics awards are listed here, as in the contemporary
source. Multiple sources say 27 and 19.
^ "National Book Award", Infoplease: Arts and Entertainment: Awards:
Book, Magazine, Newspaper Awards. Infoplease.com. Retrieved before
^ "Seattle's Egan wins National Book Award", Mary Ann Gwynn, The
Seattle Times, November 15, 2006. Retrieved before 2011-10.
^ a b c "Books and Authors", The New York Times, 1936-04-12, page
^ a b c "Lewis is Scornful of Radio Culture: Nothing Ever Will Replace
the Old-Fashioned Book ...", The New York Times, 1936-05-12, page
^ a b National Book Foundation: Awards: "Distinguished Contribution to
American Letters". Retrieved before 2012-01-07.
^ National Book Foundation: "History of the National Book Foundation".
^ National Book Foundation: About Us: "Frequently Asked Questions".
^ a b National Book Foundation: Awards: "
National Book Award Winners:
1950 – 2009". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
^ National Book Foundation: About Us: "History of the National Book
Awards". Retrieved before 2011-10.
^ "How the National Book Awards Work". www.nationalbook.org. Retrieved
27 November 2017.
^ a b "
National Book Foundation Announces Changes in the National Book
Awards Review and Selection Process". National Book Award. January 15,
2013. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
^ National Book Foundation: Awards: "
National Book Award Selection
Process". Retrieved before 2011-10.
^ a b "5 Honors Awarded on the Year's Books: Authors of Preferred
Volumes Hailed at Luncheon of Booksellers Group", The New York Times,
1937-02-26, page 23.
^ a b c
"Booksellers Give Prize to 'Citadel': Cronin's Work About Doctors
Their Favorite--'Mme. Curie' Gets Non-
Fiction Award TWO OTHERS WIN
HONORS Fadiman Is 'Not Interested' in What Pulitzer Committee Thinks
of Selections", The New York Times 1938-03-02, page 14.
^ a b "Book About Plants Receives Award: Dr. Fairchild's 'Garden' Work
Cited by Booksellers", The New York Times 1939-02-15, page 20.
^ "1939 Book Awards Given by Critics: Elgin Groseclose's 'Ararat' is
Picked as Work Which Failed to Get Due Recognition", The New York
Times, 1940-02-14, page 25.
^ "Books and Authors", The New York Times, 1941-02-16, page BR12.
^ a b "Neglected Author Gets High Honor: 1941 Book Award Presented to
George Perry for 'Hold Autumn In Your Hand'", The New York Times,
1942-02-11, page 18.
^ "The Booksellers of America Announce Their National Awards", The New
York Times, February 23, 1941, page BR21.
• More than half of the advertisement featured the three prize books
of 1937, announced earlier that month. The "Discovery of the Year"
sported a dust jacket with stylized "First Prize" ribbon affixed and
the Novel was promoted in its "
National Book Award Edition" (also
advertised ten days earlier: February 13, 1941, page 17).
^ a b "Book Trade Plans to Honor Writers: Industry Will Award Annual
Prizes for Poetry, Fiction ...", The New York Times, January 22,
1950, page 68.
^ "PROGRAMS ON THE AIR" (radio), The New York Times, March 16, 1950,
^ a b "Book Award Goes to 'La Vida'; 'The Fixer' Wins
Fiction Prize: 3
Others Will Be Honored at a Cerem[ony] ...", The New York Times,
March 5, 1967, page 39.
^ a b c d "The Last of the National Book Awards?" (The Guest Word),
William Cole, The New York Times, May 4, 1975, page 288.
^ a b c "2 Book Awards Split for First Time", Eric Pace, The New York
Times, April 11, 1973. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
^ "National Book Awards – 1964". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
2012-01-31. Compare 1963 (via menu at top of page).
^ "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
2012-01-31. Compare 1966 (via menu at top of page).
^ "National Book Awards – 1969". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
2012-01-31. Compare 1968 (via menu at top of page).
^ a b c "
American Book Awards Announced", Edwin McDowell, The New York
Times, April 14, 1983, page C30.
^ a b c "11 Nominated for American Book Awards", Edwin McDowell, The
New York Times, October 18, 1984, page C25.
^ "Three Writers Win Book Awards". The New York Times, November 16,
1984, page C32.
^ a b c d "The Short, Unsuccessful Life of the American Book Awards",
Craig Fehrman, The New York Times, October 28, 2011. Retrieved
^ "National Book Awards – 1979". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
^ "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
2012-02-04. Compare 1983 and 1984 (via menu at top of page).
^ "Publishing: New Life for American Book Awards", Edwin McDowell, The
New York Times, November 4, 1983, page C28.
^ "National Book Awards - 1986". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
18 April 2016.
^ "An Upset at the Book Awards", Edwin McDowell, The New York Times,
November 10, 1987, page C13.
^ a b National Book Foundation: Awards: "How the National Book Awards
Work". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
^ Alexandra Alter (January 31, 2018). "The Globalization of the
National Book Awards". New York Times. Retrieved February 1,
^ a b "National Book Awards Entry Rules & Guidelines, The National
Book Foundation". www.nationalbook.org. Retrieved 27 November
^ "1939 Book Awards Given by Critics: Elgin Groseclose's 'Ararat' is
Picked as Work Which Failed to Get Due Recognition", The New York
Times, February 14, 1940, page 25.
^ "Book Publishers Make 3 Awards: ... Gold Plaques", The New York
Times, March 17, 1950, page 21.
^ Alison Flood (September 20, 2012). "
Elmore Leonard to be honoured by
National Book Foundation". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
^ "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2013". Retrieved
^ Baker, Jeff (September 9, 2014). "Ursula K. Le Guin wins big honor
from National Book Foundation". oregonlive.com. Retrieved
^ "The 2014 Medalist For Distinguished Contribution To American
Letters". September 9, 2014.
^ "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". National Book
Foundation. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
^ "Robert A. Caro to Receive 2016 Medal for Distinguished Contribution
to American Letters". penguinrandomhouse.com. Retrieved 27 November
^ National Book Foundation: Awards: "Literarian Award – 2005".
Retrieved before 2011-10.
^ Leslie Kaufman (November 14, 2012). "Novel About Racial Injustice
Wins National Book Award". The New York Times. Retrieved
^ "The Literarian Award, 2013". Retrieved 2014-01-04.
^ "Literacy advocate Kyle Zimmer to receive honorary National Book
Award". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. September 3, 2014. Archived
from the original on September 3, 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
^ "The Literarian Award, 2015". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
November 20, 2015.
^ "Cave Canem » Blog Archive »
Cave Canem Awarded the 2016
Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation".
cavecanempoets.org. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
^ "How the National Book Awards made themselves irrelevant", Laura
Miller, Salon, October 12, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
^ Leslie Kaufman (November 11, 2012). "Book Awards Seek a Bigger
Splash, Red Carpet and All". The New York Times. Retrieved
The New York Times.
One historical source is microfilm, in many library holdings. Another
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007).
Another is the New York Times online.
ProQuest and NYTimes.com both
offer subscription services that some libraries purchase.
Official website –
National Book Foundation top page for the
Interview with 2002
National Book Award winner Julia Glass
List of African American writers honored with a N