April, 2015

President’s Message: NBCC Membership Events, May 27, 2015

by Tom Beer | Apr-24-2015

Dear NBCC members,

The National Book Critics Circle reading and awards ceremony, held March 11-12, were a great success-with good attendance and widespread media coverage.  At the March 13 meeting of the new board, I was elected president, and I look forward to serving the National Book Critics Circle over the next two years. 

Looking ahead, this year's membership meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, the first day of BEA. We have a number of activities planned:

8:30 - 10 a.m. Breakfast with the Publishers Publicity Association at Hachette, 1290 Avenue of the Americas. Coffee and bagels, and the opportunity to meet and network with publicists and other NBCC members.

11 a.m. General Membership meeting at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St., 6th floor.

Items on the agenda include discussion of the  bookcritics.org website. Please bring questions, concerns, and suggestions about NBCC membership.

2 p.m. Panel: NBCC board member Walton Muyumba leads a conversation about racial and gender representation in book reviewing. At the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St., 2nd floor.

Among the questions we'll engage are: what do the VIDA numbers explain about the health of American publishing? Does the American reading public actually benefits from gender and racial parity in publishing? And should books review editors and book reviewers worry about sociological concerns like gender and racial diversity? 

7:30-9:30 pm Cocktail Party at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St., 2nd floor.

If you are planning to attend the membership meeting, please email me at tomnbeer@aol.com and put "NBCC Meeting" in the subject line. You will receive separate invitations via Paperless Post to the breakfast and the cocktail party. I hope you can join us for some or all of the day's events, and I look forward to seeing many of you there.


Critical Notes: AWP15, Ben Fountain’s Ang Lee Film, PEN finalists, Claudia Rankine & More

by Admin | Apr-20-2015

Your reviews seed Critical Notes online and via email; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

NBCC featured reading at AWP15 in Minneapolis, caught onstage by reading host Jane Ciabattari: Jayne Anne Phillips, two-time finalist; Anthony Marra, awarded inaugural John Leonard prize for best first book; Lily King, NBCC fiction finalist. (Marra was named a Guggenheim fellow the next day.) More AWP moments, including folks dropping by the NBCC booth at the bookfair, on the National Book Critics Circle Facebook page.  NBCC volunteer team this year:  Anthony Marra, NBCC members Laurie Hertzel, Karen White, Christopher X. Slate, Monica McFawn, Grant Faulkner, Larry Smith, NBCC board members Karen Long, Michele Filgate, Joanna Scutts, David Biespiel, former board member Rigoberto Gonzalez.

Coming up at AWP16 in Los Angeles: this year's NBCC poetry awardee Claudia Rankine will be keynote speaker (she won a Los Angeles Times book prize this week).

NBCC fiction awardee (for Americanah)and finalist (for Half of a Yellow Sun) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was named to Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people. Writes Time's Radhika Jones: "her greatest power is as a creator of characters who struggle profoundly to understand their place in the world."

Among the finalists for PEN awards announced this week: Phil Klee, this year's NBCC John Leonard awardee for best first book; Claudia Rankine, this year's NBCC poetry awardee,  former NBCC fiction finalists Rabih Alameddine and Teju Cole, and nonfiction finalists S.C. Gwynne and Elizabeth Kolbert.

NBCC fiction awardee Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk coming to film; the Ang Lee film based on the novel is set to open in November 16, during Oscar awards season.

Former NBCC president John Freeman, launching Freeman's magazine soon, is executive editor of newly launched The Lit Hube. He kicked off the inaugural week at AWP with this essay, "A Brief History of the Future of Reading."

Longtime NBCC board member Rigoberto Gonzalez, whose poetry collection, Unpeopled Eden, won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and who was awarded the 2015 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle, was signing a new chapbook, Our Lady of the Crossword, at AWP. 

Priscilla Gilman reviews Elizabeth Alexander's memoir of love and loss for the Boston Globe.

Former NBCC board member David Haglund, now literary editor of newyorker.com, joins newyorker.com executive editor Amelia Lester, Leslie Jamison and Joshua Rothman in this podcast  discussion of the state of the memoir.

Former board member Stephen Burt has a new collection from Rain Taxi, All-Season Stephanie.

NBCC board member Colette Bancroft's take on Sandrof award winner Toni Morrison's new novel, God Help the Child.

Grace Bello interviews Editorial Director of TOON Books and Art Editor of The New Yorker Françoise Mouly for Guernica.

Ryan Teitman reviews Ander Monson's Letter to a Future Lover for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Julia M. Klein's dual review--Kate Bolick's "Spinster" and Robin Rinaldi's "The Wild Oats Project"--for the Chicago Tribune.

Julie Hakim Azzam interviews memoirist Alexandra Fuller about her newest memoir, Leaving Before the Rains, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Michelle Lancaster reviews Simon Barnes' Ten Million Aliens for Bookslut.

Susannah Nesmith reviews Cynthia Barnett's Rain for the Miami Herald.

Joan Gelfand on poetry month for Huffington Post.

Anne Boyd Rioux reviews How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis in The Rumpus.

Karl Wolff reviews One Nation Under God by Kevin M. Kruse for the New York Journal of Books.

Sheri J. Caplan reviews Valerie Lester's, Giambattista Bodoni for Bookslut. 


Critical Notes: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, Yasushi Inoue, Masha Gessen, T.C. Boyle, and more

by Eric Liebetrau | Apr-13-2015

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.


Michelle Newby reviews Antonio Ruiz-Camacho’s "Barefoot Dogs: Stories." Newby also reviews the NBCC-nominated memoir "The Other Side," by Lacy Johnson.

Janice Nimura reviews the work of Yasushi Inoue.

Laurie Hertzel reviews Abigail Thomas' "What Comes Next and How to Like It." She also reviews Masha Gessen's "The Brothers."

NBCC Board member and 2013 Balakian winner Katherine A. Powers also examines Thomas' memoir. Powers also reviews T.C. Boyle's latest.

Lori Feathers reviews Benito Pérez Galdós' "Tristana."

On Jack Kerouac, by Mike Lindgren.

John Domini reviews Mark Doten’s "The Infernal."

Marian Ryan interviews New Yorker copyeditor Mary Norris about her memoir.

Terry Hong reviews Aline Ohanesian’s Orhan’s "Inheritance." Also, an interview with "The Sympathizer" authors Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Critical Notes: J.C.Hallman, Don Winslow, Una LaMarche, Morris Dickstein, Helen Macdonald, and more

by Eric Liebetrau | Apr-06-2015

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.


Did you miss the NBCC Awards this year? You can watch them on C-SPAN.


Steven G. Kellman reviews J.C. Hallman's "B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal."

Joe Peschel also reviews Hallman's book.

"Our drug policy and its costs, scrupulously researched." Bill Williams reviews Johann Hari's "Chasing the Scream."

Clifford Garstang reviews Craig Bernier's "Your Life Idyllic."

Robert Birnbaum on the work of Don Winslow. Birnbaum also explores "1001 Walks You Must Take Before You Die."

"An offbeat mishmosh of memoir, cultural history, genealogical detective story and paranormal investigation." Maureen Corrigan on Hannah Nordhaus' new book, "American Ghost." Corrigan also discusses Clive James' "Poetry Notebook."

Michelle Newby reviews "Driving the King" by Ravi Howard. Newby also reviews David Heymann's "My Beautiful City Austin," as well as Karen Center's "Happiness for Beginners."

Marion Winik on James Hannaham's "Delicious Foods."

Cynthia-Marie Marmo O'Brien reviews "Signs Preceding the End of the World" by Yuri Herrera.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Roger Rosenblatt's "The Book of Love." Freedenberg also reviews Saul Bellow’s “There Is Simply Too Much to Think About."

NBCC board member Colette Bancroft reviews Helen Macdonald's "H Is for Hawk."

Meredith Maran reviews "Unabrow" by Una LaMarche.

David Cooper reviews Alexis Landau’s cinematically descriptive, character-driven debut novel," "The Empire of the Senses."

An interview with "Why Not Say What Happened" author, literary critic Morris Dickstein. Also, watch a video about Dickstein, produced by Tablet.

Jan Alexander reviews Jane Smiley's "Some Luck."

Kimberly Chrisman Campbell reviews Patricia Rieff Anawalt's "Shamanic Regalia in the Far North."

Andrew Ervin reviews "Country of Ice Cream Star" by Sandra Neman.

Carol Iaciofano analyzes Sloan Wilson's 1955 novel, "The Man in Gray Flannel Suit."

Gregg Barrios interviews NBCC Biography winner John Lahr. Next week in Houston, Barrios will be inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.

In her BBC.com Between the Lines column (now visible in the UK), NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari picks Renata Adler, Brad Gooch, Mary Morris, Toni Morrison, Ann Packer, Tracy K. Smith and other books to read in April.

Mythili G. Rao reviews "The Upstairs Wife" by Rafia Zakaria.

"Writing Out of Turn: Female Rock Critic Tells Experts Where to Put Their Advice." An interview with Jessica Hopper, by Kyrsten Bean.

Michael Magras reviews Máirtín Ó Cadhain's "The Dirty Dust."

Karl Wolff reviews "All the Happiness You Deserve" by Michael Piafsky at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Heather Scott Partington reviews Amelia Gray's "Gutshot." She also reviews Debra Busman's "Like a Woman," David Vann's "Aquarium," and Matt Sumell's "Making Nice."

Steven Kellman reviews "Words Without Music," by Philip Glass.

Critical Notes

by Jane Ciabattari | Apr-01-2015

Check in next week for the return of Critical Notes. And come see as at the AWP15 in Minneapolis! Booth 1201. Play Name that Author*! Come hear Jayne Anne Phillips, Lily King and Anthony Marra in the NBCC featured reading on April 9, 4:30 pm.

*Sneak peak clue:

NBCC Name that Author Clue #3:  "On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones."

March, 2015

Critical Notes: AWP15 in Minneapolis, Awards Recap, Latest Member Reviews, and More

by Carmela Ciuraru | Mar-23-2015

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

* * * * * * * * * *

Join the NBCC at AWP15's featured reading (April 9th, 4:30 pm) with Jayne Anne Phillips, Lily King and Anthony Marra:

Revisiting the 2015 NBCC awards:

Toni Morrison on the power of book critics.

Video of the NBCC finalists' reading.

Video of the NBCC awards ceremony.

Rita Dove's homage to Toni Morrison.

Announcement of NBCC awards recipients.

Alexandra Schwartz on winning the Balakian award.

Phil Klay on winning the John Leonard Prize.

*Member reviews:

NBCC President Tom Beer on the latest memoirs in Newsday. 

NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari on NPR's Weekend Edition talking about poet Jill Alexander Essbaum's first novel, Hausfrau. Julia M. Klein's review of Hausfrau for the Chicago Tribune. Klein also reviews Barney Frank's political memoir for the Boston Globe.

Joan Gelfand on Carol Smallwood's poetry collection.

Chuck Twardy reviews Kazuo Ishiguro. So does Angie Jabine.

Grace Schulman on Marilyn Hacker in Kenyon Review.

Terry Hong reviews The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot in the Christian Science Monitor. 

NBCC board member David Biespiel in The Rumpus.

Jim Ruland reviews Barry Gifford in the Los Angeles Times.

Dan Cryer on The Last Word, by Hanif Kureishi.

NBCC board member Joanna Scutts reviews Jacob Silverman's "Terms of Service" and 'The Battle of Versailles,' by Robin Givhan.

NBCC board member Carmela Ciuraru on Find Me, by Laura van den Berg, in the New York Times.

Michael Magras on The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips.

David Duhr on Keija Parssinen's The Unraveling of Mercy Louis for the Dallas Morning News.

Michelle Newby reviews Crepuscule W/ Nellie by Joe Milazzo for The Collagist and Elizabeth Harris's Mayhem for Lone Star Literary Life.

2013 Balakian winner and new NBCC board member Katherine A. Powers reviews Elliott Ackerman's Green on Blue and John Boyne's A History of Loneliness.

Andrew Cleary on Jacob Silverman's Terms of Service in the Christian Science Monitor.

Robert Birnbaum interviews Anthony Doerr. 

Chris Barsanti on Richard Price's "The Whites" for PopMatters.

Larry Smith on Jane Hirshfield.

James Gibbons on Fred Moten.

Gerald Bartell on Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

‘A Wild Faculty of Sorts’: Toni Morrison on the Power of Book Critics

by Toni Morrison | Mar-19-2015

On Thursday, March 12, Toni Morrison accepted the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof award for lifetime achievement. She mesmerized the packed house with her presence. Here is the text of her remarks; video is here. And Rita Dove's introduction is here.

The founding of NBCC in the early seventies was a singular idea.  The collective intelligence of John Leonard, Ivan Sandrof and Nona Balakian was not merely unique, it was welcome and it was needed.  A wild faculty, of sorts, dedicated to books and their scrutiny. Passionate, eager to laud and reward the best.

As the years passed this organization became more than unique; it became necessary. Publishing and writers were expanding, facing new challenges of distribution and finance. And in the mix of those challenges more astute and wide-ranging criticism fortunately surfaced.

Finally, now the National Book Critics Circle is far more than unique or necessary.  It is urgent.  The publishing world is in even more flux, facing new modes of distribution; bookstores disappear; companies merge to avoid collapse.

I am delighted and honored to join the long and distinguished list of authors and accept this Lifetime Award.  It means a lot to me.  When I published my first novel, the reception was slight, indifferent, even hostile.  I remember being chided for writing "just to avoid cliché."  I thought that was a compliment, but apparently not.  Whatever the point, the novel was not taken seriously—until, that is, John Leonard read it and took it very seriously indeed.  It wasn't about whether he liked "The Bluest Eye"; it was that he gave it his best judgment on the book's literary merit.  I will always be grateful to him for that.

I'm unclear what the category was, in 1972—Afro American, Black, African American—but I do remember books written by black writers were given their own shelves in bookstores, just like women's books and detective stories.  It was unlikely for my book to be shelved alphabetically.  Which is not to say authors objected to that convenience or that customers did not appreciate it; it is to say the same separation existed in the criticism.  Those were the days when a book of poetry by a Black writer; a novel by a black writer and a collection of essays by another black writer were reviewed together in one article, and the reviewer (white) could and did decide which among those three separate genres was the best.  I recall during my days at Random House choosing to schedule books by black writers in separate seasons, simply to avoid the cluster.  All or almost all of that has changed now.  Angela Davis' autobiography is no longer compared to Gayl Jones' novel "Corregidora."  Toni Cade Bambara's collection of short stories is not paired with Huey Newton's essays "To Die For the People." And, happily, Muhammed Ali's autobiography is not evaluated or measured against "Soledad Brother," or George Jackson's "Blood in My Eye."  James Baldwin is not paired with August Wilson.

Much of that conflation and the mixing of genres according to race has disappeared, a disappearance primarily due to the labors of literary critics in this organization.  

The National Book Critics Circle has grown and eagerly faces the challenges and opportunities of contemporary publishing.  Online books, blogs, self-publishing, e-books, new and small presses, shuttered bookstores and a general move of the newspaper industries preference to light entertainment and gossip.  Yet these changes do not deter the National Book Critics Circle's agenda—in fact, it works to confront, alter and expand the possibilities of publishing, the training of young writers and working with other literary communities.

The list of authors who have been awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Award is judicious and enviable—I am delighted to be among them.

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Toni Morrison has been a powerful catalyst in reshaping literary culture over the past half century. Her lifetime of achievement includes much more than her canonical novels, honored with the 1977 NBCC fiction award for "Song of Solomon," the 1988 Pulitzer for "Beloved," and the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. During two decades as a book editor, Morrison brought into print the landmark narrative "The Black Book" (1974) and the work of Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones, among others. From her post-graduate days in the late 1950s, when she taught at her alma mater, Howard University, until 2006, when she retired from Princeton, Morrison has influenced generations of students. Her work as a cultural critic includes" Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination" and "What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction" (2008); she edited "Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word" and serves on the editorial board of The Nation. As a frequent public spokesperson for freedom of expression, the power of the written word, and the role of the artist, Toni Morrison has articulated a vision of the role of the writer that is both courageous and inspiring.

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