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The Official 2021 Oscars Reading List Is Here

Book covers for "One Night in Miami," "Nomadland," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
Oberon Books/W. W. Norton & Company/Plume

The 2021 Oscar nominations are officially here, and several of the year’s top nominees are based on books and plays that have already racked up awards themselves. If you’re curious to read the texts that inspired some of this year’s best films, now is the perfect chance! This year’s nominees cover a broad range of topics and stories, both true and fictional.

Without any further ado, we present the official 2021 Oscars reading list!

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom: A Play

August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the basis for the Netflix film of the same name, which earned nominations for best actor, best actress, production design, costume design, and makeup and hairstyling.

The story focuses on a difficult recording session in 1927’s Chicago for blues singer Ma Rainey, the Black musicians around her, and the white music industry powerhouses who control their destinies.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century by Jessica Bruder, unlike some of the other books that inspired this year’s Oscar nominees, is actually a nonfiction book.

Bruder traveled the country, meeting permanently transient Americans, learning about the economic motivations beneath their nomadic lifestyles, and sharing both the joyful moments and the moments of harsh reality. The movie has been nominated for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best actress, cinematography, and film editing.

One Night in Miami (Oberon Modern Plays)

In One Night in Miami…, a play by Kemp Powers, four Black American icons—and close friends—celebrate a victory and share their frustrations over the course of one night.

The icons in question? Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. The film adaptation earned nominations for best supporting actor, best original song, and best adapted screenplay.

News of the World: A Novel

The movie News of the World, based on the novel News of the World by Paulette Jiles, received nominations for production design, cinematography, achievement in sound, and best original score.

It’s the story of a traveling ex-military man who travels to towns to read them the news in the years following the Civil War. He winds up being tasked with bringing an orphan back to her blood relatives, and after forming a bond with her, finds it harder than he thought to give her up to her seemingly disinterested relatives.

The White Tiger: A Novel

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger has since been adapted into a Netflix original movie, which was nominated for best adapted screenplay.

The dark, social-commentary-packed comedy centers on a Bangalore taxi driver whose life takes several unexpected turns as he navigates through village life, serving a wealthy family, India’s caste society, and the complicated world of high-powered business.

Emma (Penguin Classics)

The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma is now nominated for costume design and for makeup and hairstyling.

The comedy centers on Emma, a self-absorbed, wealthy young woman who amuses herself by attempting to matchmake among her friends and acquaintances. When her schemes go wrong, she has to confront her own flaws—and possibly open her own heart to love along the way.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

The adaptation of J.D. Vance’s controversial Hillbilly Elegy earned two Oscar nominations, for best supporting actress and for makeup and hairstyling.

The book traces the origins of the author’s rural, working-class family, following them from Appalachia to suburban Ohio as they struggle to adjust to new lives and to deal with generations of trauma.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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