Douglas Kearney’s Sho Named Finalist for 2021 National Book Award

Douglas Kearney’s (Critical Studies MFA 04) poetry collectionSho | Image courtesy of Wave Books

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, the National Book Foundation announced the 25 finalists for the 2021 National Book Awards. Among this year’s selections is Sho (Wave Books), a collection by alum and former CalArts faculty Douglas Kearney (Critical Studies MFA 04).

Praised as “always new, is always about possibility and expansion, and always dazzling” by Victoria Chang of the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), Kearney’s Sho employs wordplay and “critical irony” in its investigation of race, current events, and histories. More about the collection from publisher Wave Books

Eschewing performative typography, Douglas Kearney’s Sho aims to hit crooked licks with straight-seeming sticks. Navigating the complex penetrability of language, these poems are sonic in their espousal of Black vernacular strategies, while examining histories and current events through the lyric, brand new dances, and other performances.

Five books were shortlisted for each of the five categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature. This year’s 25 finalists were selected from a total of 1,892 submissions by a distinguished panel of literary experts. Kearney, as well as the other four Poetry finalists, is a first-time National Book Award honoree. 

Sho is nominated alongside What Noise Against the Cane (Desiree C. Bailey), Floaters (Martín Espada), A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure (Hoa Nguyen), and The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void (Jackie Wang). 

Kearney is an acclaimed poet, performer, librettist, and educator known for works like Fear, Some (2006), The Black Automaton (2009), Mess and Mess and (2016), and Buck Studies (2016), the latter of which received the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, the CLMP Firecracker Award for Poetry, and silver medal for the California Book Award (Poetry). Earlier this year, Kearney delivered the keynote lecture at the 2021 CalArts Creative Writing MFA Symposium, and was awarded OPERA America’s inaugural Campbell Opera Librettist Prize.

See the full list of 2021 finalists on the National Book Foundation’s official site. This year’s winners will be announced on Wednesday, Nov. 17 at the virtual 72nd National Book Awards Ceremony.

Kearney returns to CalArts on Thursday, Oct. 14 as a guest lecturer in the Writing Now Reading Series.

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