Ben Fountain’s wise, surprising Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), Michael Gorra’s expansive Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton), and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House), this year’s National Book Award winner in nonfiction, are among the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle book awards for the publishing year 2012. All together 30 books are finalists in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
The board of the National Book Critics Circle also announced that the Nona A. Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing has been awarded to William Deresiewicz, a contributing writer for The Nation and a contributing editor for The New Republic and The American Scholar. For the first time in its 26-year history, the Balakian Citation carries with it a $1,000 cash prize, thanks to a generous donation by NBCC member Gregg Barrios. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar will receive the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for their pioneering work in feminist thought, which revolutionized criticism.
The fiction finalists range widely in venue, from Laurent Binet’s HHhH (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman winner about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, to Zadie Smith’s London-set NW (The Penguin Press) and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House), which offers frightening insight into Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. Like Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Binet’s HHhH, an exploration of the act of fictionalizing history, is a first novel.
The biography finalists include Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf), as well as books on intriguing corners of history not so often explored: Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown Publishers), about General Dumas, father of the famous novelist; Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), about early 20th-century trend setters Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta and Madge Garland; and Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (University of California Press).
This year’s autobiography finalists include both profound personal meditation from Maureen N. McLane (My Poets. Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Leanne Shapton (Swimming Studies. Blue Rider Press) and views of cross-cultural experience from Mexican American author Reyna Grande (The Distance Between Us. Atria Books), Kenya-born Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (In the House of the Interpreter. Pantheon), and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid (House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), who died shortly before release of his memoir about rebuilding his great-grandfather’s estate in Lebanon.
The poetry finalists demonstrated mastery of craft, ranging from David Ferry’s Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press), also this year’s National Book Award winner, to Kings Tufts Award winner D. A. Powell’s Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press), and MacArthur fellow A.E. Stallings (Triquarterly: Northwestern University Press), whose work reflects her study of the classics and love of Greece, where she now lives. Nonfiction, too, had masters, including PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel and National Magazine Award winner David Quammen (Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. W.W. Norton) and 2001 National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon (Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Scribner).
Winners of the National Book Critics Circle book awards will be announced on Thursday, February 28, 2013, at 6:00 p.m. at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium. A finalists’ reading will be held on February 27, 2013, also at 6:00 p.m. at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium. Founded in 1974 in New York City, the NBCC is the sole award bestowed by working critics and book-review editors. For a complete list of finalists, see below.
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE FINALISTS, PUBLISHING YEAR 2012
Reyna Grande. The Distance Between Us. Atria Books
Maureen N. McLane. My Poets. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Anthony Shadid. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Leanne Shapton. Swimming Studies. Blue Rider Press
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. In the House of the Interpreter. Pantheon
Robert A. Caro. The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Alfred A. Knopf
Lisa Cohen. All We Know: Three Lives. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Michael Gorra. Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton
Lisa Jarnot. Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography. University of California Press
Tom Reiss. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. Crown Publishers
Paul Elie. Reinventing Bach. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Daniel Mendelsohn. Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture. New York Review Books
Mary Ruefle. Madness, Rack, and Honey. Wave Books
Marina Warner. Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. Belknap Press: Harvard University Press
Kevin Young. The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness. Graywolf Press
Laurent Binet. HHhH. tr. by Sam Taylor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Ben Fountain. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ecco
Adam Johnson. The Orphan Master’s Son. Random House
Lydia Millet, Magnificence. W. W. Norton
Zadie Smith. NW. The Penguin Press
Katherine Boo. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random House
Steve Coll. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The Penguin Press
Jim Holt. Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story. A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton
David Quammen. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. W.W. Norton
Andrew Solomon. Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Scribner
David Ferry. Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. University of Chicago Press
Lucia Perillo. On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths. Copper Canyon Press
Allan Peterson. Fragile Acts. McSweeney’s Books
D. A. Powell. Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys. Graywolf Press
A. E. Stallings. Olives. Triquarterly: Northwestern University Press
Nona A. Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: William Deresiewicz
Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar
Profiles of NBCC Finalists
Reyna Grande, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US (Atria). In this gripping memoir, Grande recounts her story of coming to the United States from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant, and how she went on to become the first person in her family to obtain a college degree. A resident of Los Angeles, Grande is a novelist and the author of two previous books: Across a Hundred Mountains, which received the El Premio Aztlán Literary Award, and Dancing with Butterflies, which was awarded an International Latino Book Award. A sought-after public speaker, Grande is a graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz.
Maureen N. McLane, MY POETS (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Marking what marked her, McLane writes about the poets whose work most influenced her personally, and as a poet, in this intimate book about the life of the mind. A book of fierce intelligence, McLane writes not of the world’s best or most important poets, but rather of those whose work has touched her deeply. The author of poetry collections Same Life and World Enough, McLane is a former Junior Fellow at Harvard University; she teaches at New York University and was a Rhodes Scholar. She has also taught at University of Chicago. McLane received the NBCC’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in 2002. She lives in New York.
Anthony Shadid, HOUSE OF STONE: A MEMOIR OF HOME, FAMILY AND A LOST MIDDLE EAST (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Three generations after his family left Oklahoma City, Shadid was drawn back to Lebanon to rebuild his great-grandfather’s abandoned home in the town of Marjayoun, and in his memoir, which was also nominated for a National Book Award, told of his painstaking reconstruction of the house amid the olive trees. Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize–winning correspondent for the New York Times, died of an asthma attack on assignment in Syria in February. He was widely mourned as one of the great chronicler’s of the Middle East. An accomplished journalist for the New York Times and the Washington Post before that, Shadid was also the author of Night Draws New: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of War, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in 2006.
Leanne Shapton, SWIMMING STUDIES (Blue Rider) . In her memoir, Shapton reflects on her youth as a national competitive swimmer who made it as far as the 1988 and 1992 Canadian Olympic trials. In this visually arresting book, Shapton includes photographs and images to tell her story. A Canadian artist as well as graphic novelist, Shapton lives in New York City, and her previous books include Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morri, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry as well as Was She Pretty? An art director for newspapers and magazines, she has also worked at the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, as well as at Maclean’s and the National Post.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, IN THE HOUSE OF THE INTERPRETER (Pantheon). This richly drawn memoir is rooted in Ngũgĩ’s experience in boarding school, the first secondary education available in British-ruled Kenya, against the backdrop of the uprising for independence and Kenyan statehood. Imprisoned by the Kenyan government in 1977, Ngũgĩ later moved to the United States, where his career has flourished. He is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, and has taught at a wide range of American universities, including Northwestern University, Amherst College, Yale University, and New York University. One of the most celebrated African writers of the postcolonial period, he is the author of numerous books, including The Wizard of the Crow, Dreams in a Time of War, and Petals of Blood.
Robert Caro, THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON: THE PASSAGE OF POWER (Knopf). Earlier volumes of Caro’s legendary biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, and his previous biography, The Power Broker, have won nearly every major award in American letters, including two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the National Book Award. This fourth volume recounts Johnson’s elevation to the Vice-Presidency, his humiliation at the hands of the President’s brother, and the miraculous rescue of his career by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas.
Lisa Cohen, ALL WE KNOW: THREE LIVES (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Cohen’s triple biography, her first book, revives the forgotten lives of three women. Esther Murphy, an heiress whose conversation was renowned for its brilliance; Madge Garland, a pioneering fashion editor; and Mercedes de Acosta, a collector and “quintessential fan,” had much in common: as lesbians and as women perceived to be failures. Cohen’s sympathetic work rescues their reputations and confronts the reader with a fundamental question of biography: whose lives do we choose to remember, and why? Cohen teaches at Wesleyan University.
Michael Gorra, PORTRAIT OF A NOVEL: HENRY JAMES AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN MASTERPIECE (Norton). Gorra, a professor of English at Smith College, deploys the arts of both the critic and the biographer to create a double portrait of a book, The Portrait of a Lady, and its author, Henry James. Alternating between readings of the novel and the circumstances in which James created it, Gorra creates a vivid panorama of two lives—one real (James) and one fictional (Isabel Archer)—as both navigated the world of trans-Atlantic high society.
Lisa Jarnot, ROBERT DUNCAN: THE AMBASSADOR FROM VENUS (University of California Press). The author of four highly praised collections of poetry, in her first biography Lisa Jarnot examines the life and work of the San Francisco poet Robert Duncan, whose critical fortunes have waxed as attitudes toward homosexuality and the San Francisco Renaissance have changed. Jarnot makes an energetic case for Duncan’s lasting importance as a poet and an intellectual, and her biography should further establish him as one of the essential poets of twentieth-century America. Born in Buffalo, New York, Jarnot lives in Queens.
Tom Reiss, THE BLACK COUNT: GLORY, REVOLUTION, BETRAYAL, AND THE REAL COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (Crown). Reiss, the author of The Orientalist, about the exotic life of the Jewish impostor Lev Nussinbaum, has discovered an equally colorful and unlikely figure: General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the half-Haitian father of the celebrated novelist Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The General cut a swath through Europe before being clashing with Napoleon and dying in obscurity. Reiss’s expertly researched biography rescues this extraordinary figure from the shadow of his descendants. Reiss lives in New York.
Paul Elie, REINVENTING BACH (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Elie is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center of Georgetown University, where he directs the American Pilgrimage Project; his previous book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own (2003), examined the lives of four Catholic American writers and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist in biography. A contributor to The Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine and other nationally recognized journals, Elie was for many years a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Reinventing Bach considers the enduring appeal and the unique adaptability of the music of J. S. Bach in its encounter with twentieth-century audiences and twentieth-century technology through prominent interpreters, among them Albert Schweitzer, Leopold Stokowski, Yo-Yo Ma, and Glenn Gould.
Daniel Mendelsohn, WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (New York Review of Books Press). Mendelsohn, a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, is Charles Flint Professor of Humanities at Bard College. He has also won the NBCC’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing in 2002. Mendelsohn’s prior books include The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006), a winner of the NBCC award for autobiography and memoir, and The Elusive Embrace (1999). The holder of a Ph.D. in classics from Princeton, Mendelsohn writes often on Greek and Latin literature and culture and their modern interpreters; his new book also includes essays on Mad Men, Spider-Man, and the nineteenth-century German novelist Theodor Fontane.
Mary Ruefle, MADNESS, RACK AND HONEY (Wave Books). Ruefle’s many books of poetry include Selected Poems (2010), Tristimania (2003), and Cold Pluto (1996); she also creates one-of-a-kind art books (visible on her website) by altering and erasing existing books. This collection of lectures, essays, and aphorisms, with its many digressions, surprises, and asides, considers the evasions and the promises of literature in general, as well as addressing particular poets and poems, such as Giacomo Leopardi and Emily Dickinson; it challenges as it instructs, and instructs as it charms, concluding with several brief “Lectures I Will Never Give.” The collection grew from lectures she gave for graduate students in the MFA program at Vermont College, where she teaches. Ruefle has won, among other awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.
Marina Warner, STRANGER MAGIC: CHARMED STATES AND THE ARABIAN NIGHTS (Harvard University Press). A prolific writer of fiction as well as literary criticism and cultural history, Warner is a professor at the University of Essex and was recently visiting professor at NYU-Abu Dhabi. Her studies of fiction, fantasy, fairy tale, narrative, and visual art include Phantasmagoria (2008), Six Myths of Our Time (1996) and Into the Dangerous World (1988); among her novels is The Leto Bundle (2002). Stranger Magic examines the stories commonly called (in English) the Arabian Nights, from their tangle of Near Eastern origins through their tremendous influence in the West, in popular culture and on such authors as Voltaire, Goethe, and Freud; these wondrous stories, Warner argues, allowed Western readers to imagine mystery—and to enjoy miraculous narrative—as something that could happen, but only elsewhere.
Kevin Young, THE GREY ALBUM: ON THE BLACKNESS OF BLACKNESS (Graywolf). Young is Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and the Curator of Literary Collections at Emory University. Among his seven books of poems are Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (2011); Dear Darkness (2008); and Jelly Roll (2003). Perhaps the most honored poet of his generation, Young also served as editor for the Best American Poetry 2011 and as coeditor for the Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton (2011). He has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University as well as a Guggenheim Fellow. The Grey Album, Young’s first collection of his own prose, introduces, critiques, and recommends such models and monuments from the African-American—that is, American—past and present as Langston Hughes, Curtis Mayfield, and Danger Mouse (source for the title), while making larger arguments about black and white, modern and contemporary, and (not least) the author’s native Kansas.
Laurent Binet, HHhH (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Binet lives in Paris, where he teaches French literature at the University of Paris III. He is the author of a memoir, La Vie professionnelle de Laurent B. HHhH, his first novel, won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman. HHhH stands for “Himmler’s Hirn heist Heydrich” (“Himmler’s brain is called Heyrich”). In an unusual blend of fiction, memoir, and history, Binet recounts his obsession with the notorious Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and the two parachuters—a Czech and a Slovak trained by the British—who assassinated him.
Ben Fountain, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (Ecco). Fountain lives in Dallas, where he set Billy Lynn, his first novel. He has also published a book of short stories, Brief Encounters With Che Guevera, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award. Fountain quit his job as a lawyer and spent 18 years writing fiction before Brief Encounters was published in 2006, an experience Malcolm Gladwell described in a New Yorker story called “Late Bloomers.” Fountain’s reporting from Haiti has appeared on “This American Life.” In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a squad of American soldiers are touted as heroes after a Fox News crew films them during an intense firefight with Iraqi insurgents. The book follows them through one intense, surreal day—which happens to be Thanksgiving and the last day of their U.S. Victory Tour—as they visit Cowboys Stadium in Dallas to take part in the halftime show along with Beyoncé and the Cowboys’ cheerleaders.
Adam Johnson, THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON (Random House). Johnson lives in San Francisco and teaches creative writing at Stanford University. He has published two previous books: Emporium, a collection of short stories, and Parasites Like Us, a novel. The Orphan Master’s Son follows the enigmatically named North Korean citizen Jun Do from his childhood in a work camp for orphans to the inner circles of power in Pyongyang. While researching the book, Johnson was one of the few Americans to visit North Korea.
Lydia Millet, MAGNIFICENCE (W. W. Norton). Millet lives near Tucson, Arizona, and is the author of nine novels. Magnificence is the third part of a loose trilogy that began with How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights. With her wry humor and sense of the absurd, Millet introduces Susan, whose husband has just died when she learns that she’s inherited a ramshackle mansion full of taxidermied animals from a great-uncle and decides to restore them.
Zadie Smith, NW (The Penguin Press). Smith was born in northwest London, the setting for her most recent novel, and teaches at New York University. Her previous books include three novels—White Teeth, winner of the Whitbread First Novel award; The Autograph Man; and On Beauty, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize—as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. In Smith’s exuberant prose, NW follows four Londoners who grew up together in public housing as they make their way as adults in widely different circumstances.
Katherine Boo, BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE IN A MUMBAI UNDERCITY (Random House). Boo grew up in Washington, D.C., graduated from Barnard College and worked as a journalist at the Washington City Paper, Washington Post, and Washington Monthly before becoming a New Yorker staff writer. She has won the Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting and received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” For the last decade she has divided her time between the United States and India. She spent more than three years reporting for Behind the Beautiful Forevers, an extraordinary, beautifully written story about the people of the Mumbai slum of Annawadi. Her first book, it received the National Book Award for nonfiction.
Steve Coll, PRIVATE EMPIRE: EXXONMOBIL AND AMERICAN POWER (Penguin Press). Coll was born in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Occidental College. During two decades at the Washington Post, he served as a foreign correspondent and managing editor and won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. His second Pulitzer was awarded for his book Ghost Wars, and he was an NBCC finalist for The Bin Ladens. He is a New Yorker staff writer and president of the New America Foundation. Private Empire is a meticulously researched and compellingly written look at one of the world’s largest and most secretive corporations and its political involvements.
Jim Holt, WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST? AN EXISTENTIAL DETECTIVE STORY (Liveright/W.W. Norton). Holt is an essayist and critic who is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and the New Yorker. His first book was Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. His second book, Why Does the World Exist?, couches an abstract and eternal question in lively interviews with philosophers, cosmologists, and a novelist as well as Holt’s own journeys. It was named best book of the year by Philosophers Magazine and one of the ten best of the year by the New York Times Book Review.
David Quammen, SPILLOVER: ANIMAL INFECTIONS AND THE NEXT HUMAN PANDEMIC (W.W. Norton). Quammen was born in Cincinnati and graduated from Yale University. A Rhodes Scholar, he studied the works of William Faulkner at Oxford University but has become known as a science and nature writer. A frequent contributor to The Atlantic, Esquire, Outside, and other publications, he has won three National Magazine awards and a John Burroughs Medal for nature writing. Spillover, his 15th book, is a thrillingly written and deeply researched look at the history and future of zoonotic diseases, those which make the leap from other species to humans. Quammen lives in Bozeman, Montana.
Andrew Solomon, FAR FROM THE TREE: PARENTS, CHILDREN, AND THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY (Scribner). Solomon was born in New York City and graduated from Yale University and Cambridge University. He is an activist for LGBT causes, mental health, and the arts. His first book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, won the National Book Award for nonfiction and a Lambda Literary Award for memoir and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Based on hundreds of interviews, Far From the Tree is a groundbreaking look at family relationships with children who are radically different from their parents’ expectations in physical, mental, and behavioral ways.
David Ferry, BEWILDERMENT: NEW POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS (University of Chicago Press). Ferry is the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College and also teaches at Suffolk University. In 2011, he received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, an award that honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Ferry is a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as of the Academy of American Poets. He has published many collections of verse, translations, and essays. His 2000 collection, Of No Country I Know, was awarded both the Lenore Marshall Prize and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress. Bewilderment is a heartbreaking book on mortality that cracks a linguistic and emotional code to link the present with the past. In new poems and original translations of Catullus, Horace, Virgil, and others, Ferry finds urgency in the haunted, in the absolute, and the vivified sensations of reality. Bewilderment was honored with the 2012 National Book Award. Ferry lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Lucia Perillo, ON THE SPECTRUM OF POSSIBLE DEATHS (Copper Canyon Press). Perillo graduated from McGill University in Montreal in 1979 with a degree in wildlife management and subsequently worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2000 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for her collection Inseminating the Elephant. Author of more than half a dozen books of poetry and prose, Perillo’s evocations of the body and myth unearth deep mordent complexities in On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths. The poems wonderfully investigate the ludicrous and the poignant insofar as human, animal, and natural societies connect with and separate from one another. Perillo lives in Olympia, Washington.
Allan Peterson, FRAGILE ACTS (McSweeney’s). Peterson is a poet and visual artist. His book All the Lavish in Common received the 2005 Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts Press. He is a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the State of Florida. Fragile Acts blends a tightly wound style that is by turns meditative and incisive. His visual sense is both exacting and transformative. These poems reiterate a classically transcendental faith that the coolness of the intellect and the warmth of love are at the core of human experience. Peterson divides his time between Gulf Breeze, Florida, and Ashland, Oregon.
D.A. Powell, USELESS LANDSCAPE, OR A GUIDE FOR BOYS (Graywolf Press). Powell is the author of five collections of poetry including Tea, Lunch, Cocktails, and Chronic, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He has twice been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. Useless Landscape, Or a Guide for Boys is a hymn to beauty and fantasy, a song-cycle to the Bay Area’s bars and boathouses, and it brings forward a verve and jocularity that is exhilarating, generous, and typical of this deeply sprung lyric poet. Powell lives in San Francisco.
A.E. Stallings, OLIVES (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern). Stallings has published two books of poetry, Archaic Smile, which won the Richard Wilbur Award, and Hapax, which won the Poet’s Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Benjamin H. Danks Award. She has also published a verse translation of Lucretius’s The Nature of Things. Stallings is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2011 MacArthur Fellow. Olives offers colloquial poems situated in the bittersweet realm of contemporary life and motherhood and clothed in a rich metrical tradition that is at once fresh and earnest. The poems explore grief and extinction, Hank Williams and Persephone, and meander between argument and ode. Stallings lives in Athens, Greece.
Nona A. Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing
The National Book Critics Circle presents the Nona A Balakian Citation each year to honor outstanding work by an NBCC critic. Named for a founding member of the NBCC, the award carries a $1,000 cash prizes for the first time this year, thanks to the generous support by NBCC member Gregg Barrios. This year’s recipient is author and critic William Deresiewicz. A graduate of Columbia University, Deresiewicz is contributing writer at The Nation and a contributing editor of The New Republic and The American Scholar, where he also authors a weekly column, All Points. He previously taught at Yale University. Deresiewicz is the author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Finalists for this year’s Balakian were Abigail Deutsch, Lev Grossman, Garth Risk Hallberg, and Kathryn Harrison.
Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
The National Book Critics Circle presents the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to an individual or institution who has made a significant and lasting contribution to American letters. Named after a founding member of the NBCC (and the organization’s first president), the Sandrof Award is presented this year to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. Perhaps the most influential of all feminist critics, Gilbert and Gubar have shaped what and how we read more than almost any other living Americans. The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) is a ground-breaking and nuanced study of the tenuous position of women writers and women characters within a patriarchal culture. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (1985), which they co-edited, is a landmark attempt to establish a canon of women’s writing but also, by implication, to insist on the integral place of women within the canon of English literature. Their three volumes of No Man’s Land offer a sophisticated and encyclopedic survey of modern women’s literature. Gilbert is professor emerita at the University of California, Davis, where she has served as mentor to several generations of grateful poets and critics. Gubar is professor emerita at Indiana University.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE
The National Book Critics Circle was founded in 1974 at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel by a group of the most influential critics of the day, and awarded its first set of honors the following year. Comprising some 500 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country, the NBCC annually bestows its awards in six categories, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States. It is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry. The finalists for the NBCC awards are nominated, evaluated, and selected by the 24-member board of directors, which consists of critics and editors from some of the country’s leading newspapers and magazines. The annual awards ceremony, in which the winners will be announced, will be held in New York on February 28, 2013.