National Book Critics Circle Awards
Mission Statement: The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) honors outstanding writing and fosters a national conversation about reading, criticism and literature. History. The NBCC was founded in April 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, with founding members John Leonard, Nona Balakian, and Ivan Sandrof intending to extend the Algonquin round table to a national conversation. NBCC Awards: The NBCC awards are given each March and honor the best literature published in the United States in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. These are the only national literary awards chosen by critics themselves. Each year the NBCC also honors one of its member critics with the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing and confers the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award on a distinguished author, editor, publisher, or literary institution. (Recent recipients include Joyce Carol Oates, Dalkey Archive Press, Milkweed Editions, and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers.) The NBCC awards finalists’ reading and NBCC awards ceremony, presented annually in March, bring together authors, reviewers, publishing people, and passionate readers for a celebration of the best of each year’s literary offerings.
2012 NBCC Award Winner for Fiction
Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare with Iraqi insurgents has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America's most sought-after heroes. Now they're on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny's Child.
Among the Bravos is Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and Support Our Troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the Cowboys' owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.
2012 NBCC Award Winner for General Nonfiction
In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.
Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.
All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.
Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.
2012 NBCC Award Winner for Biography
The first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, was cited by The Washington Post as “proof that we live in a great age of biography . . . [a book] of radiant excellence . . . Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually work, are—let it be said flat out—at the summit of American historical writing.” Professor Henry F. Graff of Columbia University called the second volume, Means of Ascent, “brilliant. No review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born.” The London Times hailed volume three, Master of the Senate, as “a masterpiece . . . Robert Caro has written one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.” The Passage of Power, volume four, has been called “Shakespearean … A breathtakingly dramatic story [told] with consummate artistry and ardor” (The New York Times) and “as absorbing as a political thriller …By writing the best presidential biography the country has ever seen, Caro has forever changed the way we think about, and read, American history” (NPR). On the cover of The New York Times Book Review, President Bill Clinton praised it as “Brilliant . . . Important . . .Remarkable. With this fascinating and meticulous account Robert Caro has once again done America a great service.”
2012 NBCC Award Winner for Poetry
In D. A. Powell’s fifth book of poetry, the rollicking line he has made his signature becomes the taut, more discursive means to describing beauty, singing a dirge, directing an ironic smile, or questioning who in any given setting is the instructor and who is the pupil. This is a book that explores the darker side of divisions and developments, which shows how the interstitial spaces of boonies, backstage, bathhouse, or bar are locations of desire. With Powell’s witty banter, emotional resolve, and powerful lyricism, this collection demonstrates his exhilarating range.I have this rearrangement to make: symbolic death, my backward glance. The way the past is a kind of future leaning against the sporty hood. —from “Bugcatching at Twilight”
2012 NBCC Award Winner for Autobiography
Swimming Studies is a brilliantly original, meditative memoir that explores the worlds of competitive and recreational swimming. From her training for the Olympic trials as a teenager to enjoying pools and beaches around the world as an adult, Leanne Shapton offers a fascinating glimpse into the private, often solitary, realm of swimming. Her spare and elegant writing reveals an intimate narrative of suburban adolescence, spent underwater in a discipline that continues to inspire Shapton’s work as an artist and author. Her illustrations throughout the book offer an intuitive perspective on the landscapes and imagery of the sport. Shapton’s emphasis is on the smaller moments of athletic pursuit rather than its triumphs. For the accomplished athlete, aspiring amateur, or habitual practicer, this remarkable work of written and visual sketches propels the reader through a beautifully personal and universally appealing exercise in reflection.
2012 NBCC Award Winner for Criticism
Our foremost theorist of myth, fairytales, and folktales explores the magical realm of the imagination where carpets fly, objects speak, dreams reveal hidden truths, and genies grant prophetic wishes. Stranger Magic examines the wondrous tales of the "Arabian Nights, " their profound impact on the West, and the progressive exoticization of magic since the eighteenth century, when the first European translations appeared.
The "Nights" seized European readers' imaginations during the siecle des Lumieres, inspiring imitations, spoofs, turqueries, extravaganzas, pantomimes, and mauresque tastes in dress and furniture. Writers from Voltaire to Goethe to Borges, filmmakers from Raoul Walsh on, and countless authors of children's books have adapted its stories. What gives these tales their enduring power to bring pleasure to readers and audiences? Their appeal, Marina Warner suggests, lies in how the stories' magic stimulates the creative activity of the imagination. Their popularity during the Enlightenment was no accident: dreams, projections, and fantasies are essential to making the leap beyond the frontiers of accepted knowledge into new scientific and literary spheres. The magical tradition, so long disavowed by Western rationality, underlies modernity's most characteristic developments, including the charmed states of brand-name luxury goods, paper money, and psychoanalytic dream interpretation.
In Warner's hands, the "Nights" reveal the underappreciated cultural exchanges between East and West, Islam and Christianity, and cast light on the magical underpinnings of contemporary experience, where mythical principles, as distinct from religious belief, enjoy growing acceptance. These tales meet the need for enchantment, in the safe guise of oriental costume.
2011 NBCC Award Winner for FictionIn this sumptuous offering, one of our premier storytellers provides a feast for fiction aficionados. Spanning four decades and three prize-winning collections, these 21 vintage selected stories and 13 scintillating new ones take us around the world, from Jerusalem to Central America, from tsarist Russia to London during the Blitz, from central Europe to Manhattan, and from the Maine coast to Godolphin, Massachusetts, a fictional suburb of Boston. These charged locales, and the lives of the endlessly varied characters within them, are evoked with a tenderness and incisiveness found in only our most observant seers.
2011 NBCC Award Winner for General Nonfiction
This groundbreaking book offers the first global history of the loyalist exodus to Canada, the Caribbean, Sierra Leone, India, and beyond.
At the end of the American Revolution, sixty thousand Americans loyal to the British cause fled the United States and became refugees throughout the British Empire. Liberty’s Exiles tells their story. This surprising new account of the founding of the United States and the shaping of the post-revolutionary world traces extraordinary journeys like the one of Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who led her growing family to Britain, Jamaica, and Canada, questing for a home; black loyalists such as David George, who escaped from slavery in Virginia and went on to found Baptist congregations in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone; and Mohawk Indian leader Joseph Brant, who tried to find autonomy for his people in Ontario. Ambitious, original, and personality-filled, this book is at once an intimate narrative history and a provocative analysis that changes how we see the revolution’s “losers” and their legacies.
2011 NBCC Award Winner for Biography
Also Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Biography
Widely and enthusiastically acclaimed, this is the authorized, definitive biography of one of the most fascinating but troubled figures of the twentieth century by the nation's leading Cold War historian. In the late 1940s, George F. Kennan—then a bright but, relatively obscure American diplomat—wrote the "long telegram" and the "X" article. These two documents laid out United States' strategy for "containing" the Soviet Union—a strategy which Kennan himself questioned in later years. Based on exclusive access to Kennan and his archives, this landmark history illuminates a life that both mirrored and shaped the century it spanned.
2011 NBCC Award Winner for Poetry
Space, in Chains speaks in ghostly voices, fractured narratives, songs, prayers, and dark riddles as it moves through contemporary tragedies of grief and the complex succession of generations. In her eighth book of poetry, Laura Kasischke has pared the construction of her verse to its bones, leaving haunting language and a visceral strangeness of imagery. By turns mournful and celebratory, Kasischke's poetry insists upon asking hard questions that are courageously left unanswered.
2011 NBCC Award Winner for AutobiographyWhen piano prodigy Norma Herr was healthy, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After Norma attacked her, Mira Bartók and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe. For the next seventeen years Mira’s only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living.At the age of forty, Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that left her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira learned Norma was dying in a hospital, and she and her sister traveled to their mother’s deathbed to reconcile one last time.Through stunning prose and gorgeous original art, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.
2011 NBCC Award Winner for CriticismGeoff Dyer has earned the devotion of passionate fans on both sides of the Atlantic through his wildly inventive, romantic novels as well as several brilliant, uncategorizable works of nonfiction. All the while he has been writing some of the wittiest, most incisive criticism we have on an astonishing array of subjects—music, literature, photography, and travel journalism—that, in Dyer’s expert hands, becomes a kind of irresistible self-reportage.Otherwise Known as the Human Condition collects twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures. Here he is pursuing the shadow of Camus in Algeria and remembering life on the dole in Brixton in the 1980s; reflecting on Richard Avedon and Ruth Orkin, on the status of jazz and the wonderous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, on the sculptor ZadKine and the saxophonist David Murray (in the same essay), on his heroes Rebecca West and Ryszard Kapus´cin´ski, on haute couture and sex in hotels. Whatever he writes about, his responses never fail to surprise. For Dyer there is no division between the reflective work of the critic and the novelist’s commitment to lived experience: they are mutually illuminating ways to sharpen our perceptions. His is the rare body of work that manages to both frame our world and enlarge it.
2010 NBCC Award Winner for FictionJennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both—and escape the merciless progress of time—in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
2010 NBCC Award Winner for General NonfictionFrom 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves. With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
2010 NBCC Award Winner for BiographyHow to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love—such questions arise in most people’s lives. They are all versions of a bigger question: How do you live? This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, considered by many to be the first truly modern individual. He wrote free-roaming explorations of his thoughts and experience, unlike anything written before. More than four hundred years later, Montaigne’s honesty and charm still draw people to him. Readers come to him in search of companionship, wisdom, and entertainment —and in search of themselves. Just as they will to this spirited and singular biography.
2010 NBCC Award Winner for PoetryC.D. Wright examines a racist event in her native Arkansas and creates a layered, nuanced, and riveting tribute to V. Investigative journalism is the poet's realm when C.D. Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident from the Civil Rights movement. Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, newspaper accounts, and personal memories--especially those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vititow--with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and black students who were rounded up and detained in an empty public swimming pool. This history leaps howling off the page.
2010 NBCC Award Winner for AutobiographyIn this powerful, unforgettable memoir, acclaimed novelist Darin Strauss examines the far-reaching consequences of the tragic moment that has shadowed his whole life. In his last month of high school, he was behind the wheel of his dad's Oldsmobile, driving with friends, heading off to play mini-golf. Then: a classmate swerved in front of his car. The collision resulted in her death. With piercing insight and stark prose, Darin Strauss leads us on a deeply personal, immediate, and emotional journey—graduating high school, going away to college, starting his writing career, falling in love with his future wife, becoming a father. Along the way, he takes a hard look at loss and guilt, maturity and accountability, hope and, at last, acceptance. The result is a staggering, uplifting tour de force.
2010 NBCC Award Winner for Criticism Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics explores the intersection of poetry, national life, and national identity in Poland and Russia, from 1917 to the present. As a corrective to recent trends in criticism, acclaimed translator and critic Clare Cavanagh demonstrates how the practice of the personal lyric in totalitarian states such as Russia and Poland did not represent an escapist tendency; rather it reverberated as a bold political statement and at times a dangerous act.Cavanagh also provides a comparative study of modern poetry from the perspective of the eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain. Among the poets discussed are Blok, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Yeats, Whitman, Frost, Szymborska, Zagajewski, and Milosz; close readings of individual poems are included, some translated for the first time. Cavanagh examines these poets and their work as a challenge to Western postmodernist theories, thus offering new perspectives on twentieth-century lyric poetry.