The National Book Critics Circle presented its book awards Thursday evening at The New School in New York City. The fiction prize went to “Lila” (FSG), a novel by Marilynne Robinson, the last in her trilogy about the fictional small town of Gilead, Iowa. The first in the series, “Gilead,” won the Pulitzer Prize. The critics’ nonfiction award went to “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation” (Knopf) by David Brion Davis, also a past Pulitzer winner, who has been writing about the history of slavery in the western world for nearly five decades.
Poet Claudia Rankine, whose book "Citizen: An American Lyric" (Graywolf) was nominated in both the poetry and criticism categories, received the poetry prize. It was the first time in the history of the National Book Critics Circle awards that one book was nominated in two fields.
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison was on hand to accept the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her long career as a novelist, editor, teacher and cultural critic. Phil Klay received the John Leonard Prize for his story collection “Redployment” (Penguin Press), which drew from his experience serving as a marine public affairs officer in Iraq in 2007-2008. The John Leonard Prize is given for the best first book in any genre.
Other awards included a biography prize for “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” (Norton), written by drama critic John Lahr, and an autobiography prize for “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” (Bloomsbury), a graphic memoir by cartoonist Roz Chast.
The criticism prize was awarded to “The Essential Ellen Willis” (University of Minnesota Press), a collection of work by the music and cultural critic who died in 2006. The book was edited by her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, who accepted the award. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, given to a working book critic, went to Alexandra Schwartz.
The awards are chosen by the 24-member board of the National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. The organization is comprised of more than 700 book critics and bloggers nationwide.