National Book Critics Circle Announces 2016 Award Winners


Louise Erdrich, Ishion Hutchinson, Margaret Atwood, Yaa Gyasi (front). Matthew Desmond, Ruth Franklin, Carol Anderson. Michelle Dean (back). Photo: John Midgley

New York, NY —Tonight, at the New School in New York, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2016. The winners include Louise Erdrich’s LaRose (Harper), a haunting novel about an accidental shooting and its aftermath for two Native American families; and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown), a narrative nonfiction account of tenants and landlords in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Ishion Hutchinson was awarded the poetry prize for House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a collection that traces the landscapes of memory, childhood and the author’s native Jamaica. The criticism award was presented to Carol Anderson for White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury), a searing critique of white America’s systematic resistance to African-American advancement.

Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl (Alfred A. Knopf) was given the prize in autobiography; it is a witty memoir of her life as geobiologist as well as an eloquent mediation on botany. The biography prize went to Ruth Franklin for Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright), about the author of  “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” and the challenges of being a wife, mother and professional writer in mid-century America.

Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing (Alfred A. Knopf), an ambitious novel that spans continents and centuries to wrap its arms around the African-American experience of slavery, was the recipient of the John Leonard Prize, recognizing an outstanding first book in any genre. Gyasi was born in Ghana and grew up partly in Alabama. She has an English degree from Stanford, an MFA from the University of Iowa, and now lives in New York.

The recipient of the 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, given to an NBCC member for exceptional critical work, was Michelle Dean. Dean’s journalism and criticism appears regularly in The GuardianThe New Republic, and other venues. Her book Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having an Opinion, is forthcoming from Grove Atlantic. The Balakian Citation carries with it a $1,000 cash prize, endowed by NBCC board member Gregg Barrios.

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was Margaret Atwood. Born in 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario, Margaret Atwood is a poet, novelist, story writer, essayist, and environmental activist. She is the author of some 16 novels, eight collections of short stories, eight children’s books, 17 volumes of poetry, 10 collections of nonfiction, as well as small press editions, television and radio scripts, plays, recordings, and editions. Her lifetime contribution to letters and book culture include groundbreaking fiction, environmental and feminist activism, and service to community as a cofounder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

In addition, the NBCC announced the first recipients of its Emerging Critics Fellowship, a new initiative which aspires to identify, nurture, and support the development of the next generation of book critics. The fellows are Taylor Brorby, Paul W. Gleason, Zachary Graham, Yalie Saweeda Kamara, Summer McDonald, Ismail Muhamad, and Heather Scott Partington.

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.

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Tom Beer, NBCC President,

Recipients of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Awards


Ishion Hutchinson, House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury)


Hope Jahren, Lab Girl (Alfred A. Knopf)


Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright)


Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown)


Louise Erdrich, LaRose (Harper)

The John Leonard Prize

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (Alfred A. Knopf)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

Michelle Dean

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award

Margaret Atwood

The NBCC Emerging Critics Fellowships

Taylor Brorby

Paul W. Gleason

Zachary Graham

Yalie Saweeda Kamara

Summer McDonald

Ismail Muhamad

Heather Scott Partington

Bios of award recipients:

Ishion Hutchinson is the author of two poetry collections, House of Lords and Commons and Far District. Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, he moved to the U.S. in 2006 for graduate studies. He’s the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, a Lannan Writing Residency, and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches in the graduate writing program at Cornell University.

Carol Anderson, Ph.D., is Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. Professor Anderson’s research and teaching focus on public policy; particularly the ways that domestic and international policies intersect through the issues of race, justice and equality in the United States. Professor Anderson is also the author of Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African-American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 and Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960. White Rage is a New York Times bestseller, and a New York Times Editor’s Pick for July 2016.

Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at University of California Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given within the Earth Sciences. She was a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu from 2008 to 2016, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. She currently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson professorship at the University of Oslo, Norway.

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New YorkerHarper’sThe New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Matthew Desmond is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and codirector of the Justice and Poverty Project. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he is the author of the award-winning book, On the Fireline, coauthor of two books on race, and editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. His work has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations, and his writing has appeared in the New York TimesThe New Yorker and Chicago Tribune. In 2015, Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant.

Louise Erdrich is the author of 15 novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. She is a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for her debut novel, Love Medicine. She has also won the National Book Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.


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 more than 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