National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners for Publishing Year 2014



New York, NY, March 12, 2015—Tonight, at the New School in New York, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2014. Claudia Rankine, whose “Citizen: An American Lyric” (Graywolf) made history for having been the first book to be a finalist in two categories (poetry and criticism), was given the award for poetry. In “Citizen,” Rankine maps the uneasiness and charged space of living race now, miraculously breaking racism’s intractability down into human-sized installations, accounts of relationships and examples of speech.

The fiction prize was given to Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a companion to her earlier novels about the small town of Gilead, Iowa: “Gilead” (also a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction) and “Home.” No one writes so simply yet profoundly of our yearnings and struggles, our troubling doubts and grateful affirmations of the good when we encounter it at last.

Roz Chast was given the autobiography prize for “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” (Bloomsbury) her revelatory, insightful and often hilarious graphic memoir about the aging and deaths of her parents. The biography prize went to John Lahr’s “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” (W.W. Norton & Co.), which brings vibrant prose and a critic’s acumen to a biography of one of the greats of 20th nbsp;century American theater.

David Brion Davis was awarded the prize in general nonfiction for “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation” (Knopf), which suggests that slavery is both the cornerstone of and the fundamental challenge to the basic principles of New World nation-building: labor and production, citizenship and human rights.

The criticism prize was presented posthumously to Ellen Willis for “The Essential Ellen Willis” (University of Minnesota Press), a career-spanning volume of incisive writing about music, feminism, radicalism, Judaism, child-reading, drugs and pornography, among other things, edited by her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz.   

Phil Klay’s book of short stories, “Redeployment” (Penguin Press) was the recipient of the John Leonard Prize, established in 2013 to recognize an outstanding first book in any genre. Named to honor the memory of founding NBCC member John Leonard, the prize is uniquely decided by a direct vote of the organization’s nearly 700 members nationwide, whereas the traditional awards are nominated and chosen by the elected 24-member board of directors.

The recipient of the 2014 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing is Alexandra Schwartz. Ms. Schwartz is an assistant editor at The New Yorker and a regular contributor to the magazine's website. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The New York Times, and The New Republic. She was previously a member of the editorial staff of the New York Review of Books, and, before that, lived and worked in France. She grew up in New York City and lives in Brooklyn. For the third time in its 28-year history, the Balakian Citation carries with it a $1,000 cash prize, generously endowed by NBCC board member Gregg Barrios.

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award is Toni Morrison. Morrison, 83, 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.

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 700 critics and editors from leading newspapers and magazines providing coverage of books.

Recipients of the National Book Critic Circle Awards for Publishing Year 2014

Roz ChastCan't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury)

John LahrTennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Ellen WillisThe Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz (University of Minnesota Press)

Marilynne RobinsonLila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

David Brion DavisThe Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (Alfred A. Knopf)

Claudia RankineCitizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

Alexandra Schwartz

Toni Morrison

Phil Klay, Redeployment (Penguin Press)

NBCC 2015 Winner Bios

Claudia Rankine (b. 1963)

Claudia Rankine is the author of “Citizen: An American Lyric”; “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely”; “Plot”; “The End of the Alphabet”; and “Nothing in Nature is Private”.  “Citizen” holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a NY Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Rankine co-edited the anthologies “The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind” and “American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language,” and her work is included in several anthologies, including “Best American Poetry 2001

Ellen Willis (1941-2006)

Ellen Willis was the first rock critic for the New Yorker, an editor and columnist at the Village Voice, and cofounder of the radical feminist group Redstockings. Her writing appeared in numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and the Nation. She established the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University and wrote Beginning to See the Light,  No More Nice Girls, and Don’t Think, Smile! Her award-winning posthumous collection of rock criticism, Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music, was published in 2011.

Roz Chast (b. 1954)

Roz Chast has loved to draw cartoons since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Painting because it seemed more artistic. However, soon after graduating, she reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again. Her cartoons have also been published in many other magazines besides The New Yorker, including Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. She is the author of many books, including The Party, After You Left and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

John Lahr (b. 1941)

Among John Lahr’s twenty books are “Notes On a Cowardly Lion: the Biography of Bert Lahr,” “Dame Edna Everage: Backstage with Barry Humphries” and “Prick Up Your Ears: the Biography of Joe Orton,” which was made into a film. He has edited the diaries of Joe Orton and Kenneth Tynan. Since 1992, Lahr has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker where for 21 years he was the magazine’s senior drama critic. He has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism and twice been included in volumes of “Best American Essays.” His stage adaptations have been performed around the world; he is the first critic ever to win a Tony Award for co-authoring the 2002 “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.”  He lives in London.

David Brion Davis (b. 1927)

David Brion Davis is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale and Director Emeritus of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. He is the author of, among other books, “Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World,” and the Problem of Slavery Trilogy:  “The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture” (1966),  “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution” (1975), and this year’s “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation.” He is widely recognized as one of the foremost authorities on the history of slavery and abolitionism, as well as one of the most influential cultural and intellectual historians of his generation.

Marilynne Robinson (b. 1943)

Marilynne Robinson is the author of four novels: “Housekeeping” (1981), “Gilead,” “Home” and “Lila.”  She has also written four books of nonfiction, “Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State and Nuclear Pollution” (1989), “The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought” (1998), “Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self” (2010), and “When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays”(2012). She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.


The National Book Critics Circle, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, was founded in 1974 at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel by a group of the most influential critics of the day, and awarded its first set of honors the following year. Comprising 700 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country, the NBCC annually bestows its awards in six categories, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States. It is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry. The finalists for the NBCC awards are nominated, evaluated, and selected by the 24-member board of directors, which consists of critics and editors from some of the country’s leading print and online publications, as well as critics whose works appear in these publications. For more information about the history and activities of the National Book Critics Circle and to learn how to become a supporter, visit