NBCC to Add John Leonard Award to Honor First Books; Named After Founding Member

By Sarah Russo

The National Book Critics Circle announces the creation of the John Leonard Award, a new prize honoring an author’s first book, named after one of the most energetic and significant critical voices in American letters. Uniquely among American book awards honoring debut efforts, it is not restricted to one genre but reflects the NBCC’s nearly forty-year-old commitment to recognize work across several categories: fiction, nonfiction, biography, criticism, poetry, and autobiography. The recipient of the John Leonard Award will be announced at the NBCC’s annual awards ceremony in early 2014.

In naming the award, which will be selected directly by a vote of the NBCC’s nearly 500 members nationwide, the National Book Critics Circle honors the legacy of critic John Leonard, a former editor of the New York Times Book Review. A founding member of the NBCC, Leonard (1939–2008) is remembered not only for his voracious and enthusiastic criticism of books, film, and television but also for his life-long encouragement of younger critics and his unwavering attention to debut writers. One of the first American critics to write on Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leonard shared his enthusiasms with a wide reading audience in a host of newspapers and magazines including New York, the Nation and Harper’s. In creating the John Leonard Award, the NBCC recognizes his commitment to nurturing new authors.

“I met John when he and his wife, Sue, were the literary editors of the Nation,” said NBCC president Laurie Muchnick, book editor at Bloomberg News. “He was dedicated to giving assignments to young writers and then he’d introduce them to editors at other publications and help them get more work. I’m thrilled that the NBCC can honor John with this new award for a first book.”

Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards are given annually to honor outstanding writing and to foster a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. The awards are open to any book published in the United States in English (including translations). The National Book Critics Circle comprises nearly 500 critics and editors from leading newspapers and magazines providing coverage of books. The John Leonard Award will represent the first award selected directly by the NBCC’s membership rather than by its board of directors.

For more information, contact Sarah Russo at or (917) 627-5993.