Debut novelist Tea Obreht, longtime poet Adrienne Rich and Malcolm X biographer Manning Marable, who died on the eve of his book's publication, were among the National Book Award finalists announced Wednesday.
The list of 20 nominees, five each in four categories, included several published by small presses, from TriQuarterly to Graywolf. Fiction finalist Edith Pearlman's story collection "Binocular Vision" was released through Lookout Books in Wilmington, N.C., while Andrew Krivak's "The Sojourn" came out from Bellevue Literary Press, based at the famous hospital in New York and the publisher of Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Tinkers."
The 26-year-old Obreht was cited for "The Tiger's Wife," a haunting novel about displacement that has already won Britain's Orange Prize for best fiction by a woman. Others in the fiction category were Julia Otsuka's "The Buddha in the Attic" and Jesmyn Ward's "Salvage the Bones." Another widely praised first novel, Chad Harbach's "The Art of Fielding," was not selected. Neither was Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot," his first novel since the Pulitzer-winning "Middlesex."
In nonfiction, Marable was nominated for his long-awaited "Malcolm X," on which the Columbia University professor had worked for 20 years, only to die just before the book came out. A Harvard University scholar, Stephen Greenblatt, was a finalist for "The Swerve," his story of the Renaissance-era rediscovery of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" and the Latin poem's influence on Western thinking. The other nominees were Deborah Baker's "The Convert" and two biographies of married couples: Mary Gabriel's "Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution," and Lauren Redniss' "Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout."
Manning is not the first posthumous nominee. In 2004, Donald Justice was a finalist for his "Collected Poems."
The National Books Awards are chosen by separate panels of writers for each retrospective category. Judges looked through 1,223 books in all.
While fiction judges focused on lesser-known authors, the poetry panel selected some of the biggest names in the field, including the 82-year-old Rich ("Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010"), Carl Phillips ("Double Shadow") and Yusef Komunyakaa ("The Chameleon Couch"). The other finalists were Nikky Finney's "Head Off & Split" and Bruce Smith's "Devotions."
The young people's literature finalists were Franny Billingsley's "Chime," Debby Dahl Edwardson's "My Name Is Not Easy," Thanhha Lai's "Inside Out and Back Again," "Albert Marrin's Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy" and Gary D. Schmidt's "Okay for Now."
The award's sponsor, the National Book Foundation, had initially reported that Lauren Myracle's "Shine," not Billingley's "Chime," was a nominee.
Winners, each of whom receive $10,000, will be announced at a Nov. 16 ceremony in New York hosted by actor-author John Lithgow. Honorary prizes will be presented to poet John Ashbery and Florida-based bookseller Mitchell Kaplan.