National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners for Publishing Year 2015


New York, NY (March 17, 2016)—Tonight, at the New School in New York, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2015. The winners include Paul Beatty’s novel “The Sellout” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), an outrageous satire about the racism in America; and Sam Quinones’ “Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic” (Bloomsbury), a devastating dive into the nation’s rampant addiction crisis.

Ross Gay was awarded the poetry prize for “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” (University of Pittsburgh Press), a community orchardist’s praise song for the natural world. The criticism award was presented to Maggie Nelson for “The Argonauts” (Graywolf), which combines her personal story of queer family-making with meditations on gender, art, and sexual politics.

Margo Jefferson’s “Negroland” (Pantheon) was given the prize in autobiography; it is a witty, elegant and deeply emotional account of the pressures and contradictions of growing up in the privileged African-American class of the 1950s and '60s. The biography prize went to Charlotte Gordon for “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley” (Random House), a dual biography that takes up the lives and work of two groundbreaking, unconventional women authors in 18th and 19th century England.

Kirstin Valdez Quade’s story collection, “Night at the Fiestas” (W.W. Norton) was the recipient of the John Leonard Prize, established to recognize an outstanding first book in any genre. Quade is a former Stegner Fellow and Jones lecturer at Stanford University. She was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” and has received a Rona Jaffe Award.

The recipient of the 2015 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing was Carlos Lozada, associate editor and nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post. A native of Lima, Peru, Lozada was the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine before joining the Post in 2005. 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 was Wendell Berry. Now 81, Berry is an influential poet, essayist, environmentalist, activist, critic and farmer. For more than 40 years he has farmed a hillside in Henry County, Kentucky, where he was born in 1934. He is the author of more than 50 books, including his most recent essay collection, “Our Only World” (Counterpoint).

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 more than 700 critics and editors from leading newspapers, magazines and online publications providing coverage of books.


Recipients of the National Book Critic Circle Awards for 2015

Ross Gay, “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Maggie Nelson, “The Argonauts” (Graywolf)

Margo Jefferson “Negroland” (Pantheon)

Charlotte Gordon, “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley” (Random House)

Sam Quinones, “Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic” (Bloomsbury)

Paul Beatty, “The Sellout” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The John Leonard Prize

Kirstin Valdez Quade, “Night at the Fiestas” (W.W. Norton)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

Carlos Lozada

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award

Wendell Berry



Ross Gay (b. 1974) is the author of two previous collections, Against Which and Bringing the Shovel Down. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Orion, the Sun, and elsewhere.  He is an associate professor of poetry at Indiana University and teaches in Drew University’s low-residency MFA program in poetry. He also serves on the board of the Bloomington Community Orchard.

Maggie Nelson (b. 1973) is a poet, art critic, essayist and author of such works of nonfiction as “The Red Parts: A Memoir,” “The Art of Cruelty,” “Bluets,” and “Jane: A Murder.” “The Art of Cruelty” was a 2011 Notable Book of the Year, and “Jane: A Murder” was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. Nelson has taught at the Graduate Writing Program of the New School, Wesleyan University, and the School of Art and Design at Pratt Institute; she currently teaches in the CalArts MFA writing program. She was awarded an Arts Writers grant in 2007 from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation. In 2011, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry.

Margo Jefferson (b. 1947), winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, was for years a theater and book critic for Newsweek and The New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, Vogue, New York magazine, and The New Republic. She is the author of “On Michael Jackson” and is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts.

Charlotte Gordon (b. 1962) is the author of “Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet” and “The Woman Who Named God: Abraham’s Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths.” She has also published two books of poetry, “When the Grateful Dead Came to St. Louis” and “Two Girls on a Raft.” She is an associate professor of English at Endicott College and lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Sam Quinones (b. 1958) is a journalist, storyteller, former LA Times reporter, and author of three acclaimed books of narrative nonfiction. His career as a journalist has spanned almost 30 years. He lived for 10 years as a freelance writer in Mexico, where he wrote his first two books. In 2004, he returned to the United States to work for the L.A. Times, covering immigration, drug trafficking, neighborhood stories, and gangs. In 2014, he resigned from the paper to return to freelancing. Columbia Journalism School selected him as a 2008 recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot prize, for a career of excellence in covering Latin America. He is also a 1998 recipient of an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships given to print journalists.

Paul Beatty (b. 1962) is the author of the novels, “The Sellout,” “Tuff,” “Slumberland” and “The White Boy Shuffle,” and the poetry collections “Big Bank Take Little Bank” and “Joker, Joker, Deuce.” He was the editor of “Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor.”



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 nearly 600 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

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