Francis and Sharlet: 2019 National Book Awards Judges in Poetry and Nonfiction

The role of the writer is to write, of course, but it can also include participation in the larger literary community. Professors Vievee Francis and Jeff Sharlet were given the chance to exercise some literary citizenship this year as judges of the 2019 National Book Awards, one of the highest honors in American publishing. Professor Francis sat on the panel judging more than 300 new titles in poetry. Professor Sharlet chaired the nonfiction panel, evaluating nearly 600 recent and forthcoming books.

Each panel was responsible for deciding on a longlist of ten books, a shortlist of five, and, in a meeting on the day of the awards, the winner. Included on the shortlist selected by Professor Francis’ panel are Be Recorder, by Carmen Giménez Smith, and Deaf Republic, by Ilya Kaminsky. The nonfiction shortlist selected by Professor Sharlet’s panel includes Sarah M. Broom’s reported memoir The Yellow House, which Dartmouth students heard in-progress when Broom was a 2016 visiting writer in the Cleopatra Mathis Poetry & Prose Reading Series; and The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer, who was a guest of Dartmouth’s Native American Studies Program in 2012.

“The finalists represent this moment of renaissance in American poetry,” comments Professor Francis. “The work is not shy. It is boldly individuated, yet utterly engaged with the worlds around it. Each artist manages this balance in their own way, and in doing so, creates a collective opening that is shifting the boundaries of the national poetic landscape.” Whereas poetry is judged by a panel of poets, the nonfiction panel was comprised of a historian, a critic, a bookseller, a memoirist-essayist, and Sharlet. “The range of perspectives on our panel allowed us to think broadly,” he says. “The result is a list that may be the most diverse in years, in terms of both identity and genre.” Professor Alexander Chee judged the fiction category for the National Book Awards in 2018. The other two categories are Translated Literature and Young People’s Literature.