‘frank: sonnets’, by Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)
Seuss said this collection, his fifth, is a memoir composed of sonnets, with poems that touch on death, birth, loss, and addiction. “Death does not exist in poetry,” begins one piece. “No choking noises in the 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 the description. Is there nobility in poems? Let’s hope not. Nobility is another place / to hide. The collection has 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 hypnotic, oracular lines”. This collection consists of three long poems.
Finalist: “Yellow Rain”, by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press)
A poetic account of mysterious illnesses and deaths among the Hmong people, many of whom believed a substance, known as ‘yellow rain’, had been dropped from planes beginning in the 1970s, leading to accusations of biological warfare.
In “Invisible Child,” Elliott expands on his 2013 series for The Times about Dasani, a homeless New York schoolgirl, and her family. An intimately reported portrait of family, it’s also a searing tale of poverty and drug addiction, and the city’s and country’s repeated failures to address these issues. On the Book Review podcast, Elliott said Dasani became the focus of the book, in part because “he was someone who, at a very young age, could articulate his experience in a moving and profound way. And it’s a rare trait, even in adults. In his review, Matthew Desmond wrote: “The result of this unwavering and tenacious reporting is a rare and powerful work whose stories will live on in you long after you 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 runners-up, 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 tale, “Jane Roe is equal parts heroine and villain – and a paragon of human complexity. If you love your stories the way many of us do now – pat , with the narrative reverse-engineered to validate your background – this book is not for you. But it is if you want an honest insight into the American soul, the filthy and sometimes fruitful marriage of activism and commerce , of how people can be and believe contradictory things, of the inner and outer lives of women crushed and tossed by reproductive tyranny.