Books that touch on some of the most pressing issues facing America today won two of the major honors at the National Book Critics Circle awards program, held on March 17 at the New School in New York City. Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a satire about racism in the U.S., took the fiction prize, while Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Bloomsbury) by Sam Quinones, which examines a growing addiction crisis, won in the nonfiction category.
Negroland (Pantheon), Margo Jefferson’s memoir of growing up in an elite African-American family, won the autobiography award, and the biography prize went to Charlotte Gordon for Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley (Random House).
Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Graywolf), a personal story of family life with meditations on gender, sexual politics, and art, won the prize for criticism, and Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude took home the NBCC Award for Poetry.
Also on hand during the ceremony were the winners of three prizes announced earlier in the year by the NBCC. The John Leonard Prize, which honors an outstanding debut in any genre, was presented to Kristin Valdez Quade for her short story collection, Night at the Fiestas (Norton). Carlos Lozada, associate editor and nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post, was awarded the 2015 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. And the winner of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was poet, novelist, critic, farmer, and environmentalist Wendell Berry. The 81-year-old Berry is the author of more than 50 books, including his 2015 essay collection, Our Only World.
Ross Gay wins the poetry award.
Maggie Nelson, the winner for criticism, celebrates with her Graywolf editor, Ethan Nosowksy.
Margo Jefferson makes acceptance remarks after taking home the autobiography prize.
Fiction winner Paul Beatty was a crowd favorite.
Biography winner Charlotte Gordon with her agent Brettne Bloom (l.) and her Random House editor Susanna Porter (r.).
Sam Quinones (r.) receives congratulations from Bloomsbury publisher George Gibson after his win in nonfiction.
Kirstin Valdez Quade won the John Leonard Prize; Wendell Berry (r.) was given the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award; and Carlos Lozada received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.