Winners of the 2021 National Book Critics Circle



Ecco, Fourth Estate, Graywolf

The National Book Critics Circle announced March 17 the winners of the 2021 Book Awards in six categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, autobiography and criticism. The virtual ceremony, usually held in person at The New School, began with the finalists reading their work.

The John Leonard Award for Best First Book was posthumously awarded to talented late author Anthony Veasna So for his collection of short stories. Afterparties which concentrates the Cambodian-American community in California. The award was accepted by the author’s sister, Samantha So Lamb.

The winner of the Toni Morrison Achievement Award was the Cave Canem Foundation, an organization that provides space and support for black poets. Since its founding by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady in 1996, Cave Canem has counted among its colleagues many of the most exceptional American poets of the time. Derricotte and Eady accepted the award. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Editing went to Merve Emre and the winner of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was Percival Everett.

The book by fiction winner Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The love songs of WEB Du Bois was an Oprah Book Club Pick in 2021. “Thank you so much to Mrs. Oprah Winfrey, that wonderful, generous black woman, also with deep southern roots, who picked my book for her book club, who spoke my name with grace and kindness completely changed my life for the better,” Jeffers said in part of his acceptance speech. You can watch the full ceremony here.

The stories of the winners range from a multi-generational opus to discovering identity in bars to critiquing the myths women tell themselves throughout their lives. Choose your next read from the full list of winners below.

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Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So


A rousing, story-haunting love letter to Cambodian Americans and queer life. So’s debut collection is full of energy, whether drawing the reader’s attention to drunken cousins ​​roaring at a traditional wedding reception or a rivalry between a badminton coach at the high school and his teenage challenger. Unfortunately, this hilarious and radiant social satire is So’s first and last book; he died suddenly in 2020 at age 28.


Gay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin


Jeremy Atherton Lin’s first book is a nuanced memoir, both collective and personal, of the queer community he discovered in spaces from London to San Francisco. It’s a living representation that codifies historical memories of queer nightlife before platonic connections went digital.


All Common Problems These Days by Rebecca Donner

Petit, Brown and company


Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was a doctoral candidate studying in Germany in the 1930s when the Nazis were rising to power. She refused to return to the United States, choosing to enlist in the underground movement, leading a guerrilla war against a crazed and genocidal regime. Donner recreates the epic of her great-great-aunt in a beautiful collage of family history and traditions, a revealing window into a Götterdämmerung that changed the world forever.


Girlhood by Melissa Febos


Every now and then a book comes along that seems so definitive, so necessary, that not only do you want to tell everyone to read it now, but you also find yourself wanting to go back in time and tell your younger self that you read something that will give meaning to your life.

The ferocious non-fiction collection of Melissa Febos, Youth, could well be this book. Febos is one of our most passionate and profound essayists, and in this 2017 follow-up abandon me, she crafts an assemblage of memoirs and cultural critiques that conceals many of the myths women are told throughout their lives: that we ourselves are not masters of our own domains, that we exist for the pleasure of others, and therefore our own pleasure is secondary and negligible. Her latest book, Body Work Reviewed by Oprah Daily, is “part memoir, part craft book, part literary treatise.”


frank: sonnets of Diane Seuss


In her flexible and unforgiving fifth collection, poet Diane Seuss reimagines the sonnet as a conversational confession, dispensing with rhyming restrictions to probe the burdens of love and individuality, the compulsion to see art as a whole , with playfully drawn images from everyday life. “Unbalanced intimacy,” she wrote. “Believe me, I didn’t want any more. Who in their/right mind? And then it came like an ice cream truck/with its weird tinkling music, sweet frost.


How the Word Got Around by Clint Smith


Inspired by the destruction of Confederate monuments in his native New Orleans, a poet hits the road, plotting a journey that winds through the past, from Monticello in New York to the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana, digging deep into the foundations of our racist past.


The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Oprah’s Book Club Pick)


An Oprah Book Club Pick, this generational magnum opus from an award-winning poet follows protagonist Ailey as she unravels her family’s Afro-European-Creek lineage. By piecing together her past – a story full of oppression and resilience that is partly gleaned from stories heard from elders – Ailey comes to terms with her own place in the world.

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