Burns, Smith Among 2019 NBCC Award Winners

At the New School on March 14, the National Book Critics Circle named its 2018 winners among a number of milestones: the 45th year of the critics’ organization, the 100th year of the New School, and the last night of Kate Tuttle’s presidency of the NBCC.

Unlike last year, which saw six awards go to all women and all independent publishers, the Big Five made a comeback at this year’s awards, sweeping all four nonfiction categories. The criticism award was presented to Zadie Smith for Feel Free: Essays, while Steve Coll won the nonfiction prize for Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan, both of which were published by Penguin Press.

Nora Krug was given the prize in autobiography for her graphic memoir Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home, published by Scribner. “Writing and drawing is an act of compassion, and if I learned anything from writing this book, it is to use writing and drawing to understand complexities,” Krug said as she accepted the award, “…and to advocate for a more humane society.”

The biography prize went to Christopher Bonanos for Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous, published by Henry Holt & Company. “I, like many of you, write at nights and on weekends,” Bonanos said, noting that Weegee worked of most of his career as a freelance photographer—something Bonanos, a magazine editor, understands. “‘This whole enterprise depends on fringe people,'” Bonanos added, quoting a journalist friend: “So let’s take a moment and cheer on all the fringe people.”

Minnesotan indie publishers swept the fiction and nonfiction categories. Ada Limón was awarded the poetry prize for The Carrying, which was published by Milkweed Editions. “Every year, another split in the world, and after that, more voices of women,” Limón said, accepting the award. “In that vein, let me accept this great honor on behalf on not only my fellow nominees, but on behalf of all the women who have been nominated for this award…and all the women who have written books this year,” adding: “I, for one, have never made anyone alone—never written a single poem alone.”

Anna Burns won for her novel, Milkman, which won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and which was published in the U.S. by Graywolf Press. “It is happiness beyond measure for me to know that Milkman has meant so much to so many people,” Burns said in a statement read by her editor, Steve Woodward.

The winners of three additional prizes, which were announced in January, were also honored during the evening. The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded, for the fourth time in 37 awards, not to a person but an institution Arte Público Press, the oldest and largest publisher of Hispanic literature in the United States. Tommy Orange, author of There There, received the fifth annual John Leonard Prize, established to recognize outstanding first books in any genre and named in honor of founding NBCC member John Leonard, and the 2018 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University.

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