Nelson’s narrative of how the Civil War unfolded in the West examines the conflict from the perspectives of nine historical figures from different backgrounds. Critics and historians have praised Nelson for shedding light on how the Civil War impacted Native people living in the West. “Rarely is a Civil War book so readable and so new to our understanding,” the biographer David W. Blight said in a blurb.
Credit…Liveright, via Associated Press
This biography, which also won the National Book Award for nonfiction, was a decades-long project; Les Payne died in 2018, leaving his daughter and principal researcher, Tamara, to finish the manuscript. “Nobody has written a more poetic account” of Malcolm X’s life, our reviewer said, praising the book’s reconstruction of the key events in his life.
Finalist: “Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath,” by Heather Clark (Knopf)
In this biography, Clark pulls from materials that have never been accessed before — including court documents and psychiatric records, unpublished manuscripts and letters — to rescue Plath “from the reductive clichés and distorted readings of her work largely because of the tragedy of her ending,” a review in The New York Times said.
Finalist: “Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World,” by Amy Stanley (Scribner)
Stanley follows the daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno, who defies social convention to make a life for herself in 19th-century Japan — running away from her village after three divorces to live in Edo, the city that would become Tokyo. The book won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.
In her second book, Diaz claims a classic form — the love poem — and centers the experiences of queer women of color. Our reviewer praised the “extreme lushness to the language Diaz uses, especially about love, sex and desire.”
Finalist: “A Treatise on Stars,” by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions)
This collection, which was also a finalist for the National Book Award, leaps from the deeply personal to the cosmic.
Finalist: “In the Lateness of the World,” by Carolyn Forché (Penguin Press)