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National Book Award nominees announced: Lauren Groff's 'Matrix,' Robert Jones Jr. make the cut

·4 min read

The National Book Foundation has announced the longlist nominees for the 2021 National Book Awards.

Among the nominees for fiction is Lauren Groff, whose book “Matrix” received a rave ★★★★ (out of four) review from USA TODAY. Critic Steph Cha called the historical book, about a prioress of an impoverished medieval abbey, “a relentless exhibition of Groff’s freakish talent.” Groff was previously nominated for her 2015 novel “Fates and Furies.”

Also making the list is first-time novelist Robert Jones Jr. for “The Prophets,” a historical novel about two enslaved gay men on a plantation in the antebellum South.

Author Robert Jones Jr.
Author Robert Jones Jr.

" 'The Prophets' is packed with otherworldly and supremely artful storytelling, and readers will surely get lost in a radiant romance,” reads a ★★★★ review for USA TODAY. “But most important, Jones adds to the growing body of literature that reimagines slavery.”

Previously nominated author Anthony Doerr, whose 2014 novel “All the Light We Cannot See” made that year’s shortlist, makes a return visit with his new novel, “Cloud Cuckoo Land.”

On Thursday, nominees for nonfiction were announced. Among them is Ohio poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib, whose book “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance” meditates on Black artistic performance in the U.S. and how it's inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture.

In a ★★★ (out of four) review of the book for USA TODAY, Darryl Robertson writes, “Abdurraqib digs into historical, musical and personal vaults to unearth layered moments of performance, such as dancing in a basement on the east side of Columbus, Ohio, to the music and videos of Whitney Houston; conversations with elders at a local BBQ joint in Memphis; and Josephine Baker working as a spy for France’s military.”

More: Hanif Abdurraqib's 'A Little Devil in America' examines acts of joy in Black performance

Author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib.
Author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib.

Also nominated is Clint Smith for his book “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America.” In a ★★★1/2 (out of four) review of the book for USA TODAY, Chris Vognar writes, “By traveling to former plantations, cemeteries and beach communities and dealing with Confederate monuments, prison conditions and Lost Cause nostalgia, Smith, a staff writer at The Atlantic, aims to show how what happened scarcely over 150 years ago can’t help but cast a shadow on what’s going on now, especially not when for the price of a bus ticket you can be taken back to the scenes of the crime.”

For the complete list of nominees, including in the categories of young people's literature, translated literature and poetry, visit The finalists in all five categories will be revealed on Oct. 5, and the winners will be announced on Nov. 17. National Book Foundation plans to hold the winners' event in person this year after making last year’s ceremony virtual because of the pandemic.

Last year’s winners were Charles Yu for fiction for his novel "Interior Chinatown"; Les Payne and Tamara Payne for their nonfiction book "The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X"; Kacen Callender for young people's literature with “King and the Dragonflies”; Yu Miri for “Tokyo Ueno Station,” translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles, for translated literature; and by Don Mee Choi for poetry with “DMZ Colony.”

Author Clint Smith.
Author Clint Smith.

2021 longlist nominees for fiction

  • Anthony Doerr, “Cloud Cuckoo Land”

  • Lauren Groff, “Matrix”

  • Jakob Guanzon, “Abundance”

  • Laird Hunt, “Zorrie”

  • Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, “The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois”

  • Robert Jones Jr., “The Prophets”

  • Katie Kitamura, “Intimacies”

  • Elizabeth McCracken, “The Souvenir Museum”

  • Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”

  • Richard Powers, “Bewilderment”

2021 longlist nominees for nonfiction

  • Hanif Abdurraqib, "A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance"

  • Lucas Bessire, "Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains"

  • Grace M. Cho, "Tastes Like War: A Memoir"

  • Scott Ellsworth, "The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice"

  • Nicole Eustace, "Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America"

  • Heather McGhee, "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together"

  • Louis Menand, "The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War"

  • Tiya Miles, "All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake"

  • Clint Smith, "How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America"

  • Deborah Willis, "The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship"

More: Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, 'Harlem Shuffle,' among 2021 Kirkus Prize nominees

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lauren Groff, Richard Powers nominated for National Book Award

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