Last night, at a packed and buoyant ceremony at the New School in New York, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2017.
First up were the John Leonard, Nona Balakian, and Ivan Sandrof Awards—chosen and announced in the weeks prior to the ceremony:
The John Leonard Prize, recognizing an outstanding first book in any genre, went to Carmen Maria Machado for her debut fiction collection, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf).
The recipient of the 2017 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, given to an NBCC member for exceptional critical work, was Charles Finch.
The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was given to journalist, essayist, author, and longtime journalism professor at Princeton University, John McPhee.
After that came the nail-biting portion of the evening, as the 30 authors nominated—in the categories of Poetry, Criticism, Autobiography, Biography, Nonfiction, and Fiction—awaited the final results.
Below you’ll find the six winners, as well as an illuminating review of each title.
Congrats to all!
Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf)
“This book troubles our consideration of the language we use to carry our personal and national narratives … Long Soldier is aware of the American tradition of reading a racial or ethnic identity, especially an indigenous language, as an art form. She has built a poetics that refuses those boundaries, even when she engages with her Lakota identity. Her literary lineage is wide and demanding … Rather than subverting any particular structure, Long Soldier is leaping into new ‘not yet defined’ spaces. Whereas challenges the making and maintenance of an empire by transforming the page to withstand the tension of an occupied body, country and, specifically, an occupied language … Though the Congressional resolution of apology to Native Americans is void of any gestures signaling sincere repair, Whereas ensures that this grief, this absence, will be given presence, be given a body to wonder.”
–Natalie Diaz (The New York Times Book Review)
Carina Chocano, You Play The Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Trainwrecks, & Other Mixed Messages (HMH/Mariner)
“In this whip-smart essay collection, pop culture critic Chocano explores representations of women in books, movies, and television, with characters ranging in time and temperament from Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart to Mad Men’s Joan and Peggy. Remarkably comprehensive and enjoyably associative, the essays move quickly from the haunting performances of French actress Isabelle Adjani to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie as allegories for the potential of powerful women to ‘wreck civilization.’ Chocano astutely observes that Thelma and Louise and Pretty Woman are ‘dueling metanarratives’ from the same cultural moment, offering diametrically opposed messages about women’s aspirations … these essays will appeal to anyone interested in how women’s stories are told.”
Xiaolu Guo, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China (Grove)
Ms. Guo’s memoir offers a haunting account of how China’s rapid shift from Maoist ideology to market-driven growth has simultaneously created extraordinary opportunities for the Chinese people and intensified their craving for meaning and purpose in the face of continuing authoritarian controls … She is especially vivid—and funny—in describing the moments when her childhood intersected with high politics … Nine Continents shows the rewards of listening to an unleashed voice remembering and speaking with full freedom.
–Julian B. Gewirtz (The Wall Street Journal)
Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books)
“..an impressive piece of social history that uses the events of Wilder’s life to track, socially and politically, the development of the American continent and its people … Prairie Fires could not have been published at a more propitious time in our national life. In the 1930s, populists like the Wilders were a minority voice in America; it was rather the characters in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath who reflected the mood of the country. They resembled the people who, in their millions, greeted Roosevelt as a savior, convinced that his was the view required for national survival. Today, the balance of power has reversed. The Wilders among us now occupy a position so influential they have been able to elect someone of their own persuasion to the American presidency. The frontier mentality they still embody is less likely to shore up a potentially failing democracy than to wreck it altogether.”
–Vivian Gornick (The New Republic)
Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Simon & Schuster)
“Her book makes the case so well, it leaves readers with the feeling that we should all be paying closer attention … Although FitzGerald’s coda on Donald Trump’s victory has a tacked-on feel in an otherwise masterful narrative, her explanation of evangelical support for his campaign — which puzzled many — reads as essential. FitzGerald illuminates how a decades-long relationship between the Christian right and the Republican Party (later joined by the Tea Party) coalesced into what looks like a mutually inextricable bloc.”
–Lily Rothman (TIME)
Joan Silber, Improvement (Counterpoint)
“Now is the moment to appreciate that she is here, in our midst: our country’s own Alice Munro … Improvement is more certainly a novel, belonging first and last to a single mother named Reyna living in Harlem, though it alights briefly, like a songbird, in the lives of numerous other characters … What’s hard to convey is the riverine naturalness of Silber’s style. Like Grace Paley and Lucia Berlin, she’s a master of talking a story past its easiest meaning; like Munro, a master of the compression and dilation of time, what time and nothing else can reveal to people about themselves. She has an American voice.”
–Charles Finch (The Washington Post)
About the NBCC:
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 nearly 600 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 print and online publications, as well as critics whose works appear in these publications. For more information about the history and activities of the National Book Critics Circle and to learn how to become a supporter, visit www.bookcritics.org.