On Books Logo


On Books

Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996.

Louise Erdrich, four other Minnesota writers finalists for prestigious national award

Louise Erdrich. Photo by Paul Emmel.

Minnesota writers Louise Erdrich  and Kao Kalia Yang are among the finalists for this year’s National Book Critics Circle Awards, as are Minnesota-reared writers Alice Kaplan, Michael Tisserand and Hope Jahren. "Blackacre," published by Minneapolis’ Graywolf Press, is a finalist in poetry.

The finalists were selected on Saturday at a board meeting in New York City and the winners will be announced in mid-March. The board also named Yaa Gyasi’s novel, “Homegoing,” as winner of the John Leonard Prize, which goes to the best first book. Critic Michelle Dean, who writes for the Guardian, the New Republic and elsewhere, won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which carries a $1,000 cash award. And Margaret Atwood—novelist, poet, essayist, futurist, and environmental activist—will receive the board’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kao Kalia Yang's memoir, "The Song Poet," was about the life of her father, Bee Yang. Star Tribune photo by Brian Peterson

Here is the full list of finalists, with links to Star Tribune reviews, when available:


Marion Coutts, “The Iceberg.”

Jenny Diski, “In Gratitude.”

Hope Jahren, “Lab Girl.”

Hisham Matar, “The Return.”

Kao Kalia Yang, “The Song Poet.”


Nigel Cliff, “Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story.”

Ruth Franklin, “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.”

Joe Jackson: “Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary.”

Michael Tisserand, “Krazy: George Herriman, a life in Black and White.” (review forthcoming this Sunday)

Frances Wilson: “Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey.”


Carol Anderson, “White Rage.”

Mark Greif, “Against Everything.”

Alice Kaplan, “Looking for the Stranger.”

Olivia Laing, “The Lonely City.”

Peter Orner, “Am I Alone Here?”


Michael Chabon, “Moonglow.”

Louise Erdrich, “LaRose.”

Adam Haslett, “Imagine Me Gone.”

Ann Patchett, “Commonwealth.”

Zadie Smith, “Swing Time.”

General nonfiction

Matthew Desmond, “Evicted.”

Ibram X. Kendi, “Stamped from the Beginning.”

Jane Mayer, “Dark Money.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Nothing Ever Dies.”

John Edgar Wideman, “Writing to Save a Life.”


Ishion Hutchinson, “House of Lords and Commons.”

Tyehimba Jess, “Olio.”

Bernadette Mayer, “Works and Days.”

Robert Pinsky,”At the Foundling Hospital.”

Monica Youn, “Blackacre,” (published by Graywolf Press.)

The awards will be announced on March 16 at the New School in New York City. The NBCC is made up of about 1,000 working critics and book review editors across the country.

Teju Cole a double-finalist in PEN America awards; Graywolf has three books in the running

Teju Cole. Photo by Tim Knox

Teju Cole. Photo by Tim Knox

PEN America has announced the finalists for its annual literary awards. Teju Cole is a finalist in two categories fo rhis essay collection, "Known and Strange Things" -- the first time this has happened in PEN history.

It’s a long, impressive and inspiring list, so let’s get right to it. I’ll include links to Star Tribune reviews when available.Also, note at the end of the list--several of these writers will be in the Twin Cities this spring.

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award ($75,000): To recognize a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact.

Known and Strange Things (Random House), Teju Cole

Olio (Wave Books), Tyehimba Jess

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House), Hisham Matar

Dark Money (Doubleday/Penguin Random House), Jane Mayer

The Underground Railroad (Doubleday/Penguin Random House), Colson Whitehead

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize ($25,000): For a fiction writer whose debut work represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise

Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky), Rion Amilcar Scott

We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout Books/UNC Wilmington), Clare Beams

The Mothers (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House), Brit Bennett

Homegoing (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House), Yaa Gyasi

Hurt People (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), Cote Smith 

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): For a book of essays that exemplifies the dignity and esteem of the essay form.

The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood (Graywolf Press), Belle Boggs

Known and Strange Things (Random House), Teju Cole

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and The Mind (Simon & Schuster), Siri Hustvedt

The Girls in My Town (University of New Mexico Press), Angela Morales

Becoming Earth (Red Hen Press), Eva Saulitis

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000): For a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown/Penguin Random House), Matthew Desmond

The Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (W.W. Norton & Company), Patrick Phillips

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Bloomsbury), Sam Quinones

Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House), Laura Secor

Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship (Doubleday/Penguin Random House), Anjan Sundaram 

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000): For a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of the physical or biological sciences. 

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets (Random House), Luke Dittrich

Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History (Basic Books/Perseus Book Group), Dan Flores

How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of a Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press/Penguin Random House), Julian Guthrie

Lab Girl (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House), Hope Jahren

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish (Scribner/Simon & Schuster), Emily Voigt

Helen Oyeyemi. Photo by Manchul Kim.

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): For an exceptional work of literature by an author of color.

The Book of Memory (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), Petina Gappah

The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books/University of Maine at Farmington), Jamaal May

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House), Helen Oyeyemi

Look (Graywolf Press), Solmaz Sharif

Blackacre (Graywolf Press), Monica Youn 

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing ($5,000): For a nonfiction book on the subject of sports.

The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers (HarperCollins), Michael Leahy

Catching the Sky (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster), Colten Moore with Keith O’Brien

Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA (Portfolio/Penguin Random House), Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss

Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town (Atlantic Monthly Press/Grove Atlantic), S.L. Price

Fastpitch: The Untold History of the Softball and the Women Who Made the Game (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), Erica Westly

 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000): For a distinguished biography.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright/W.W. Norton & Company), Ruth Franklin

Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), Joe Jackson

A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (W.W. Norton & Company), Jane Kamensky

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer (HarperCollins), Arthur Lubow

Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White (HarperCollins), Michael Tisserand (Review forthcoming)

PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English.

Confessions by Rabee Jaber (New Directions) translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Between Life and Death by Yoram Kaniuk (Restless Books) translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Harshav

Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap (Archipelago Books) translated from the German by Tess Lewis

Justine by Iben Mondrup (Open Letter Books) translated from the Danish by Kerri A. Pierce

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Hogarth/Crown Publishing/Penguin Random House) translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000): For a book-length translation of poetry into English. 

Pearl: A New Verse Translation (Liveright/ W.W. Norton & Company) translated from the Middle English by Simon Armitage

Abyss by Ya Hsien (Zephyr Press) translated from the Chinese by John Balcom

Preludes and Fugues by Emmanuel Moses (Oberlin College Press) translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi (Archipelago Books) translated from the French by Donald Nicholson Smith

Absolute Solitude by Dulce Maria Loynaz (Archipelago Books) translated from the Spanish by James O’Connor 

Writers coming to town:

Yaa Gyasi will be in Eden Prairie at 6 p.m. March 6, St Andrew Lutheran Church, 13600 Technology Drive
Eden Prairie. $5.
Hope Jahren will be in MInneapolis at 7 p.m. Jan. 23, Hoverstein Chapel, Augsburg College.

Michael Tisserand will be at Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av., S., Mpls., at 7 p.m. Feb. 9

Event Calendar
  • Today
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun

No Events Available.