Critical Notes

Get involved! Vote! Run! And, while you’re at it, take a look at all this great work.

By Laurie Hertzel

Image by Rog Walker

Members, this is the time of year when you can get deeply involved in the NBCC — choosing the winner of the John Leonard Prize, voting for board members (and running for the board yourself), nominating notable writers or institutions for the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime achievement award, and nominating books for our finalist lists. Get cracking! And read on:

We Need Your Help Selecting the Next Sandrof Award Honoree

Each year, the NBCC board selects a person or institution to win the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, and we’d love to have your help choosing the next winner.

The Sandrof Award, named after the first president of the NBCC, is given annually to a person or institution — a writer, publisher, critic, or editor, among others — who has, over time, made significant contributions to book culture. Past winners of the award have included Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, PEN American Center, Studs Terkel and Wendell Berry. The most recent honoree, Arte Público Press, received significant national media attention for their win, including articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the San Antonio Express-News, Texas Monthly and NBC. They even received a special citation from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in honor of their victory.

Any institution or living person can be nominated for the award, and a list of previous winners is available on the NBCC website. If you know of a person or group who you think is deserving of the award, please send their name and a 1-3 paragraph nominating statement to Sandrof Award Committee Chair Michael Schaub at Nominations are open until Dec. 1, 2019. We’d love to hear from you!

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

The NBCC awards the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing each year to recognize outstanding work by a member of the NBCC. The citation is awarded in honor of Nona Balakian, a founding member of the National Book Critics Circle. Since 2012, the Balakian Citation has carried with it a $1,000 cash prize donated by board member Gregg Barrios. Nominees for the Balakian Award must be NBCC members in good standing, and may submit up to 5 book reviews for a total of 5,000 words.  The deadline is Monday, December 9. Compete guidelines are

NBCC Members’ Choice

Every year NBCC members are asked to nominate titles to be finalists for the book awards in fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry and criticism. Any title that receives 20 percent of the membership’s votes automatically becomes a finalist. Look for a SurveyMonkey nomination form in your email later this month.

NBCC Board Elections Are Approaching!

Every year the NBCC’s membership elects eight members to join its board of directors. If you are interested in running for the board, please send a bio and statement of intent (no more than 300 words) to VP Membership Anjali Enjeti by 5 p.m. ET Dec 1. Read our primer on the NBCC board’s work to learn more about what’s involved. (Hint: It’s not just the awards.)

Now, on to member news and reviews…

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River for Lone Star Lit.

Daphne Kalotay interviewed Peter Orner about his new collection, Maggie Brown and Others, for Memorious.

Anne Charles reviewed Paris, 7 A.M. , by Lisa Wieland for Lambda Literary Review.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Johanna Skibsrud’s essay collection The Nothing That Is for The Woven Tale Press.

Page Hill Starzinger reviewed Brian Teare’s poetry collection, Doomstead Days for On the Seawall.

Hamilton Cain wrote about titles by Valeria Luiselli, Peter Orner, Ann Patchett, Zadie Smith, and Nell Zink for O, the Oprah Magazine’s best books of 2019 issue.

Former Balakian winner Carlos Lozada reviewed A Warning by Anonymous for the Washington Post.

A very busy Sarah Neilson rounded up 15 of the best queer debuts of 2019 for BookMarks, interviewed Lindy West about her new book The Witches Are Coming for Rewire News, and spoke to Margaret Wilkerson Sexton about her new novel The Revisioners for Electric Literature.

NBCC member Jim Ruland profiled Dean Koontz for the Los Angeles Times.

Barbara Basbanes Richter interviewed Peter McGough about his new book, I’ve Seen the Future, and I’m Not Going, for Art & Object.

The totally hip Ron Charles posted a Washington Post Totally Hip Video Book Review of The Andromeda Evolution, Daniel H. Wilson’s sequel to Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, the thriller classic that is now, somehow, 50 years old.

Board member Mark Athitakis reviewed Lydia Davis’ essay collection Essays One for On the Seawall.

Jeffrey Mannix reviewed The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Olguín in his Murder Ink column for the Durango Telegraph in Durango, Colorado.

Diane Scharper‘s review of Long Live Latin, the Pleasures of a Useless Language by Nicola Gardini has been published by the National Review.

Tobias Carroll wrote about Vernon Subutex 1 and unorthodox books about music for Electric Literature, and reviewed Jaed Coffin’s Roughhouse Friday for the Portland Press-Herald.

Meanwhile, former board member Dan Cryer has published a memoir, “Forgetting My Mother: A Blues from the Heartland” (Parafine Press).

Gerald Bartell interviewed mystery writer Catriona McPherson for Kirkus Reviews.

In her latest Second Acts column for the L.A. Review of Books, Lisa Russ Spaar wrote about the poetry of L.E. Sissman and Lynn Martin.

Joan Silverman explores Post-Its, peanut butter, and the stuff of daily life in her essay collection “Someday This Will Fit,” which she discusses with Jane Brox for The National Book Review. Brox is the author of the NBCC nonfiction finalist “Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm” and other books.

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to

The photo of the folks behind Arte Publico Press, winner of the 2019 Ivan Sandrof lifetime achievement award, was taken by Rog Walker for the NBCC.


Laurie Hertzel is the president of the NBCC and the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.