The National Book Foundation has selected LeVar Burton to present this year's awards on November 15 in New York City. The author, actor, and activist has long been an advocate for the power of reading—from Reading Rainbow to his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, to his books like Aftermath. More recently, Burton was named the honorary chair of Banned Books Week by the American Library Association.
“LeVar Burton has introduced multiple generations of young people to the joys of reading, and is a fearless advocate for book access, especially amidst the alarming rise in book banning across the country,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation.
Burton will be joined on stage by special guest Oprah Winfrey. In a statement to the press, Burton expressed his enthusiasm to present the 74th Annual National Book Awards. “It’s an honor to return as host of the biggest night for books, especially in a moment when the freedom to read is at risk and literature both needs and deserves our recognition and support.”
Read on to see the five incredible books named as Finalist for this year's National Book Award for Fiction.
Fans of dystopian battle-royale tales like The Hunger Games or Squid Game will love this brutal take on America's private prison industry. The titular Chain-Gang All-Stars are convicts who provide entertainment through gladiatorial matches. Each victory brings the all-stars one step closer to freedom, but a single defeat means certain death.
Characters like Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker fight in death-matches for packed arenas. But how can they maintain their own humanity in a world that cares more about entertainment than life itself?
Temple Folk offers 10 stories detailing diverse narratives about the lives of Black Muslims in America. The collection includes some tales with paranormal themes—for example, “Due North” tells the story of a girl haunted by the spirit of her recently deceased father—but others are simple stories of ordering a cheeseburger or a routine to the store.
This Other Eden
It should come as no surprise that This Other Eden offers fresh takes on biblical and utopian stories. Beginning with a great flood, the novel tells the story of a peaceful island, separated from a hostile mainland until the arrival of a prejudiced schoolteacher-turned-missionary. The events that follow show how fragile peace can be, how quickly traditions can be disrupted, and how resilient the human spirit can be in the face of injustice.
The End of Drum-Time
Forbidden love in a frozen setting. The End of Drum-Time details Lutheran Minister Mad Lasse's attempt at converting Scandinavian reindeer herders to his faith. However, his successes don't come without consequence: When Willa, Mad Lasse's daughter, catches the eye of one of the men he came to convert, she finds herself compelled by a new way of life. The love she shares with Ivvár must not only stand against differences in cultures and believes, but the arduous migration north to the sea as well.
Those who love stories of time travel will find a powerful challenge in Blackouts by Justin Torres. The novel is about storytelling itself as much as anything else, as a book is passed down from author to author, subject to subject, each one leaving behind some piece of themselves within the pages. As the book says: “The past is with us, beside us, ahead of us; what are we to create from its gaps and erasures?”
Featured photo: The National Book Awards