The 2017 Leonard Award

By Kate Tuttle

It's that time of year again: time to talk about the John Leonard Prize, our annual award based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers.

Named for the longtime critic and NBCC co-founder, the prize is awarded for the best first book in any genre. Previous winners – Anthony Marra's “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (2013), Phil Klay's “Redeployment” (2014), Kristin Valdez Quade's “Night at the Fiestas” (2015), and Yaa Gyasi's “Homegoing” (2016) – have all been fiction. But works of nonfiction and poetry are also eligible. All nominated titles must be an author's first-ever book in any genre, published in the United States in calendar year 2017.


To generate more discussion, members are invited to write a short review about a favorite 2017 debut for the NBCC blog, Critical Mass. If you're interested in contributing, please contact board member Kerri Arsenault. We expect this will be a lively forum for getting the word out about Leonard Prize contenders. And, as always, please share your suggestions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #NBCCLeonard.


In November, you'll receive an email via SurveyMonkey asking you to nominate your top 5 books for the prize. We'll compile those nominations to come up with a slate of the most nominated books as finalists.


Last year, for the first time, we invited members to join a panel of volunteers who committed to read the entire slate of Leonard finalists (probably 5-7 books) and vote for the winner, which was announced in January. It went well except for difficulties with holiday season book distribution to our 50 panelists. So we're doing the same thing this year-except this time there will be ebooks only. If you don't have a suitable device, this would be a great time to get one. 

The Leonard committee is open to any NBCC member, and there is no cap on how many may participate. So please join! To sign up, click here by 5 pm NY time Nov. 20. We anticipate you'll have about six weeks to read the books before voting for a winner by Jan. 8. If you have any questions about joining, please email board member Dan Akst, who is chairing the committee. And as always, you're welcome to email me with questions and comments.

Happy reading, and we hope you'll be actively involved in the John Leonard Prize this year.



Kate Tuttle

NBCC Board President