Last night, at an event held in the New School’s Tishman Auditorium, the National Book Critics Circle presented awards to its 2011 winners in fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry, autobiography, and criticism. The list of finalists, announced back in January, was particularly impressive, at least to our eye, so the winners are doubly so. The National Book Critics Circle Awards are the only American awards chosen by the critics themselves, seeking every year to “honor the best literature published in English” as well as to “foster a national conversation about reading, criticism and literature.” Click through to see the winners, and let us know if you think the NBCC made the right choices in the comments.
Fiction: Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories, Edith Pearlman
This relatively unknown writer (though she has published many short stories, her last collection was in 2005), beat out a shortlist full of household names and buzzy authors — Jeffrey Eugenides, Alan Hollinghurst, Teju Cole, and Dana Spiotta — to take home the prize. She deserves it, too — Binocular Vision assembles the best from her previous collections and some glittering new work, each story a masterwork of wit and description.
Nonfiction: Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, Maya Jasanoff
Though we have to admit we had our money on Pulphead, this book tells a fascinating story you don’t hear too often — that of the losers. Liberty’s Exiles tells the tale of the exodus of sixty thousand Americans — British loyalists — at the end of the Revolutionary war, as they left their homes for Britain, Canada, the Caribbean, Sierra Leone, and India, among other places, looking to make a new life.
Biography: George F. Kennan: An American Life, John Lewis Gaddis
In the late 1940s, US diplomat George Kennan wrote two documents — the “Long Telegram” and the “X Article” — that inspired the Truman Doctrine and the policy of Soviet Union “containment,” and subsequently became an expert on the Cold War. Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis’ book has been thirty years in the making, and during his life Kennan granted him several interviews as well as access to all of his personal documents, allowing Gaddis to write a detailed, empathetic portrait of the great man.
Poetry: Space, in Chains, Laura Kasischke
The author of thirteen books of poetry and fiction and a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, Laura Kasischke knows her stuff. Her poetry is intelligent and expertly poised, with a transient, almost overheard quality, and emotionally devastating as she prods at the edges of illness, old age, and death.
Autobiography: The Memory Palace: A Memoir, Mira Bartók
In this heartbreaking memoir, Norma Herr is a luminous piano prodigy with two daughters until her increasing schizophrenic episodes lead her into a world of dangerous madness. After Norma attacks her, Mira Bartók and her sister change their names and abandon their mother in order to protect themselves — but seventeen years later, Mira suffers a head injury that leaves her memories and sense of the present unclear, and she decides to return to her mother’s bedside to finally reconcile.
Criticism: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews, Geoff Dyer
We’ve always thought of Geoff Dyer as a critic’s critic, so it’s no surprise to us that he has won the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism. Otherwise Known as the Human Condition collects essays, reviews and ruminations written by the inventive and compelling storyteller over twenty five years. All of these were good when published alone — together they are wonderful.