‘frank: sonnets,’ by Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)
Seuss has said this collection, her fifth, is a memoir composed of sonnets, with poems that touch on death, birth, loss and addiction. “Death does not exist in poetry,” one piece begins. “No choking sounds in poems, no smell of blood. I can describe / the sounds, the smells, but the description is in fact a hiding place. There is no nobility / in description. Is there mobility in poems? Let’s hope not. Nobility is another place / to hide.” The collection also won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Voelcker Award.
Finalist: “Refractive Africa: Ballet of the Forgotten,” by Will Alexander (New Directions)
The New York Times described Alexander as a poet who mixes “politics with mesmeric, oracular lines.” This collection is made up of three long poems.
Finalist: “Yellow Rain,” by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press)
A poetic account of mysterious illnesses and death among the Hmong people, many of whom believed that a substance, which became known as “yellow rain,” was dropped from planes beginning in the 1970s, leading to accusations of biological warfare.
In “Invisible Child,” Elliott expands on her 2013 series for The Times about Dasani, a homeless New York schoolgirl, and her family. An intimately reported portrait of the family, it’s also a searing account of poverty and addiction, and of the city and country’s repeated failures to address those issues. On the Book Review’s podcast, Elliott said that Dasani became the main focus of the book, in part, because “she was somebody who, at a very young moving age, could articulate in a and profound way of her experience. And that’s a rare trait even in adults.” In his review, Matthew Desmond wrote: “The result of this unflinching, tenacious reporting is a rare and powerful work whose stories will live inside you long after you’ve read them.”
Finalist: “The Family Roe: An American Story,” by Joshua Prager (WW Norton & Company)
Arguably the most timely of this year’s winners and finalists, Joshua Prager’s book is the story of Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff known as Jane Roe, whose case won abortion rights for American women. In his review, Anand Giridharadas wrote that in Prager’s telling, “Jane Roe is both heroine and villain — and a paragon of human complexity. If you like your stories the way too many of us now do — pat, with the narrative reverse-engineered to validate your priors — this book is not for you. But it is if you want an honest glimpse into the American soul, into the foul and sometimes fruitful marriage of activism and commerce, into the ways in which people can be and believe contradictory things, into the inner and outer lives of women squelched and tossed by reproductive tyranny.”