Authors, editors, agents, publicists and publishers crowded the Auditorium at the New School on March 13 for the The National Book Critics Circle award ceremony, honoring titles published in 2013. Among the night's big winners were Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, awarded the fiction prize for her novel, Americanah (Knopf), and Sheri Fink, who received the nonfiction award for Five Days at Memorial (Crown).
Shouting in celebration as she reached the podium, Adichie said she felt especially humbled to be included in the same category as fellow Fiction finalist Alice McDermott (Someone), who was her teacher at Johns Hopkins, where she received her MFA.
Frank Bidart thanked his longtime editor and friend, FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi, as he accepted the Poetry award for Metaphysical Dog (FSG). Amy Wilentz took home the Autobiography award for Farewell, Fred Voodoo (Simon & Schuster), a chronicle of Wilentz's personal experiences in Haiti— in accepting the award, the author thanked the "entire country" of Haiti, which she called her "muse." Leo Damrosch won for Biography for Jonathan Swift (Yale University Press); and the Criticism prize was awarded to Franco Moretti for Distant Reading (Verso).
Anthony Marra was given the first ever John Leonard prize, which honors a debut work of note in any genre, for his novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth). The NBCC announced the creation of the award last spring, named after the critic and founding member of the NBCC who passed away in 2008.
After an introduction by Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times, Leonard’s wife Sue presented the award to Marra. “There was nothing John enjoyed more as a critic than discovering a new writer,” remarked Leonard. “Because of this prize, [he] now belongs to the ages, and Anthony Marra is well and truly launched.”
The 2013 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing was awarded to Katherine A. Powers, who has contributed to The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Novelist, essayist, and translator Rolando Hinojosa-Smith received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.
After the ceremony, the winners and finalists celebrated at a reception held at the nearby Lang Center.