415 books were submitted for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. The Longlist consists of a past winner, many who have appeared on the Longlist before and some debut novels. I can’t imagine selecting just one for this award and I’m glad I don’t have to—that’s left to this year’s judges: Luis Alberto Urrea, Alan Michael Parker, Emily Pullen, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, and Charles Yu.
Let’s dive into the 10 that made the Longlist.
Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr
I’m very excited for this one. Doerr is the author of Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See—one of my all-time favorite books. Cloud Cuckoo Land releases Sept. 28 and is similarly historical fiction. Pre-order it if you haven’t already—and if you need a quick reminder on why pre-ordering is so important right now.
Matrix, Lauren Groff
Groff isn’t a newbie to this Longlist—she’s a a two-time National Book Award Finalist. I’ve never read Groff before, but her resume is impressive and this looks like an interesting read as it covers themes of displacement and the meaning of home.
Abundance, Jakob Guanzon
One of a few debut authors on the list, Guanzon’s novel offers similar themes to Groff’s. From the National Book Award’s site, “Abundance follows a father and son for a pivotal 24 hours after they’re evicted from their trailer on New Years’ Eve. Each chapter announces the amount of cash the father has in his pocketand exposes the deep inequities faced by Americans today.” That chapter concept alone has me intrigued.
Zorrie, Laird Hunt
Another historical fiction book on the Longlist, Zorrie follows the life of the titular main character’s childhood in Depression-era Indiana to adulthood. This is Hunt’s eighth novel alongside a collection of short stories and two book-length translations from French.
The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Fanonne Jeffers has made an appearance on the Longlist for the National Book Award for Poetry—but this is her first time on the fiction Longlist, with a debut novel too. Here’s a longer excerpt on the book’s description, but one that seems to capture it excellently: “The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans…Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.”
The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr.
Another debut novel to make the Longlist, The Prophets is “the Black queer love story of two enslaved men on a Deep South plantation who find tenderness in the face of oppression.” Jones has appeared in publications such as New York Times, Essence and The Paris Review, but this is his first time in the world of fiction.
Intimacies, Katie Kitamura
I’m immediately intrigued by Kitamura’s book, which tells the story of an unnamed interpreter who escapes to New York. “A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home.” I love that so many of the books on this year’s Longlist touch on this theme of home and purpose.
The Souvenir Museum: Stories, Elizabeth McCracken
Longlisted in 2004 and a finalist in 1996, McCracken makes her third appearance on the Longlist. The Souvenir Museum: Stories interweaves short stories together in this piece of contemporary fiction—a genre I have a soft spot for. I will definitely be picking this one up.
Hell of a Book, Jason Mott
Mott’s novel is “inspired by his own dislocating book tour” and he fictionalizes the experience in Hell of a Book. He’s the author of three other novels, one which has been turned into a television series and was a New York Times bestseller.
Bewilderment, Richard Powers
Capping off the list is a name many will be familiar with. Powers is actually a previous winner of this award, back in 2006. I’m currently reading his 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Overstory, a book unlike any I’ve ever read—in the best way possible.
This year’s selection is highly impressive, with a number of debut novels making the list alongside some veterans. I think I’ll be picking up Bewilderment, Cloud Cuckoo Land, The Souvenir Museum: Stories and The Prophets at the minimum—though I wish I had space and time for them all. The winner will be selected in a few weeks on October 5.