The five nonfiction finalists are similarly renowned: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Applebaum; Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo; The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of Robert Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on Lyndon Johnson; The Boy Kings of Texas, a memoir by Domingo Martinez; and House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid, the former Washington Post and New York Times writer who won two Pulitzer Prizes and died last year in Syria during an asthma attack.
To be eligible for this year's awards, which will be announced Nov. 14, a book must be written by an American and published by an American publisher between Dec. 1, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012. Self-published books are eligible if the writer also publishes works by other authors.
The finalists for young people's literature have a decidedly dark cast this year: Carrie Arcos' Out of Reach is a novel about lost teens and drug addiction. Patricia McCormick's Never Fall Down is based on the true story of a boy soldier in the Khmer Rouge. Eliot Schrefer's Endangered is a novel about a girl trying to save a group of bonobos during the civil war in Congo. Steve Sheinkin's Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon is a work of nonfiction about the race to build an atomic bomb during World War II. William Alexander's fantasy Goblin Secrets is about a boy looking for his lost brother with a troupe of theatrical goblins.
The poetry finalists are Bewilderment, by David Ferry, who won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2011; Heavenly Bodies, by Cynthia Huntington, a former poet laureate of New Hampshire; Fast Animal, by Tim Seibles, a former fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts; Night of the Republic, by Alan Shapiro, a previous finalist for the National Book Critics Circle's poetry award; and Meme, by Pushcart Prize-winner Susan Wheeler.
The 20 finalists for the National Book Awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature were announced Wednesday by NBA chairman David Steinberger.
Novelist Elmore Leonard will receive a medal for distinguished contribution to American letters, and New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. will receive the foundation's award for outstanding service to the American literary community.
The judges considered more than 1,200 submissions in four categories. The fiction judges this year are Dinaw Mengestu, Stacey D'Erasmo, Lorrie Moore, and Janet Peery. The nonfiction judges are Brad Gooch, Linda Gordon, Woody Holton, Susan Orlean, and Judith Shulevitz
All finalists will receive $1,000. The winners receive $10,000.