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Greenblatt ‘Swerve,’ Marx Bio Join National Book Award Nominees

The cover jacket of
The cover jacket of "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern," by Stephen Greenblatt. Source: W.W. Norton via Bloomberg

Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Biographies of two married couples, Karl and Jenny Marx and Marie and Pierre Curie, were among the nominees for the National Book Awards, which were announced today.

Four out of five nonfiction finalists are biographies, including Mary Gabriel’s “Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution” (Little, Brown) and Lauren Redniss’s “Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout” (It Books). “Radioactive” is the first graphic biography, told in words and pictures, to be nominated in an adult category.

The other biographies are Deborah Baker’s “The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism” (Graywolf), about an American-Jewish woman who converted to Islam and moved to Pakistan, and Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” (Viking). Marable died days before his book’s publication in April.

The other nonfiction nominee is Stephen Greenblatt’s “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” (Norton), the history of an ancient Roman book, Lucretius’s “On the Nature of Things,” and how its rediscovery fueled the Renaissance.

Bellevue Literary Press, a small organization based at Bellevue Hospital in New York, published last year’s Pulitzer-winning novel, “Tinkers.” Now it’s been recognized by the National Book Awards with a nomination for Andrew Krivak’s first novel, “The Sojourn.”

First Book

Lookout Books, based at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, gained a nomination with the very first book it published, Edith Pearlman’s “Binocular Vision.” The other fiction nominees are Tea Obreht’s “The Tiger’s Wife” (Random House), Julie Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic” (Knopf) and Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones” (Bloomsbury).

The nominees in poetry are Nikky Finney’s “Head Off & Split” (Triquarterly), Yusef Komunyakaa’s “The Chameleon Couch” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Carl Phillips’s “Double Shadow,” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Adrienne Rich’s “Tonight No Poetry Will Serve” (Norton) and Bruce Smith’s “Devotions” (University of Chicago).

The Young People’s Literature nominees are Franny Billingsley’s “Chime” (Dial), Debby Dahl Edwardson’s “My Name Is Not Easy” (Marshall Cavendish), Thanhha Lai’s “Inside Out and Back Again” (HarperCollins), Albert Marrin’s “Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy” (Knopf), Lauren Myracle’s “Shine” (Amulet) and Gary D. Schmidt’s “Okay for Now” (Clarion).

Winners receive a bronze statue and $10,000, while nominees receive a bronze medal and $1,000.

Ashbery Award

The winners will be announced on Nov. 16 in New York, at a benefit for the National Book Foundation hosted by actor and writer John Lithgow at Cipriani Wall Street. Poet John Ashbery will receive a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community will be given to Mitchell Kaplan, owner of the small Books & Books chain based in South Florida and co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International.

To contact the writer of this review: Laurie Muchnick in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at

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