National Book Critics Circle announces awards finalists

·3 min read

The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its annual book awards in a virtual ceremony Thursday night.

The finalists include Colson Whitehead’s 1960s-set caper novel Harlem Shuffle, Rebecca Donner’s biography All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler and A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir by Rodrigo Garcia, son of One Hundred Years of Solitude author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Awarded annually since 1976, the NBCC book awards are the only book prizes chosen by critics. The awards are given in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Finalists and winners in those categories are chosen by members of the NBCC board of directors. (Disclosure: I’m one of those board members.)

The finalists and winner of the John Leonard Prize for best first book in any genre are chosen by the NBCC membership.

Also announced Thursday were the winners of several individual awards. The ceremony celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, named for one of the NBCC’s founders, with a panel discussion by previous Balakian winners and a salute from Peter Balakian, Nona’s nephew.

The winner of the 2021 Balakian is Merve Emre, a professor of English at the University of Oxford and a contributing writer to the New Yorker.

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award winner is prolific novelist Percival Everett, whose books include Suder, Erasure and I Am Not Sidney Poitier.

A new award instituted this year, the Toni Morrison Achievement Award, was given to the Cave Canem Foundation, founded in 1996 to remedy the underrepresentation and isolation of African-American poets.

The winners of the NBCC book awards will be announced in a virtual ceremony March 17 that will be free and open to the public. Follow the NBCC on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for registration.

National Book Critics Circle Finalists

Publishing Year 2021


Hanif Abdurraqib, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance (Random House)

Jeremy Atherton Lin, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out (Little, Brown)

Rodrigo Garcia, A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir (HarperVia)

Doireann Ní Ghríofa, A Ghost in the Throat (Biblioasis)

Albert Samaha, Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes (Riverhead)


Susan Bernofsky, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser (Yale University Press)

Keisha N. Blain, Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America (Beacon Press)

Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little, Brown)

Mark Harris, Mike Nichols: A Life (Penguin Press)

Alexander Nemerov, Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York(Penguin Press)


Melissa Febos, Girlhood (Bloomsbury)

Jenny Diski, Why Didn’t You Do What You Were Told? (Bloomsbury)

Jesse McCarthy, Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul? (Liveright)

Mark McGurl, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon (Verso)

Amia Srinivasan, The Right to Sex (FSG)


Joshua Cohen, The Netanyahus (NYRB)

Rachel Cusk, Second Place (FSG)

Sarah Hall, Burntcoat (Custom House)

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois (Harper)

Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday)


Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Doubleday)

Joshua Prager, The Family Roe: An American Story (Norton)

Sam Quinones, The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth (Bloomsbury)

Clint Smith, How the Word Is Passed (Little, Brown)

Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses (Viking)


B.K. Fischer, Ceive (BOA)

Donika Kelly, The Renunciations (Graywolf)

Rajiv Mohabir, Cutlish (Four Way)

Cheswayo Mphanza, The Rhinehart Frames (Univ. of Nebraska)

Diane Seuss, Frank: Sonnets (Graywolf)


Ashley C. Ford, Somebody’s Daughter (Flatiron Books)

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, My Monticello (Henry Holt)

Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby (One World)

Larissa Pham, Pop Song (Catapult)

Anthony Veasna So, Afterparties (Ecco)

Devon Walker-Figueroa, Philomath (Milkweed Editions)