Announcing the 2022 NBCC Award Winners

By David Varno

New York, NY (March 23, 2023)—Tonight at the New School, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2022.
The winners include Ling Ma, who won the fiction award for the collection Bliss Montage: Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Committee chair Anita Felicelli remarked on how the book “portrays the sometimes-startling indignities of race and immigrant experience, and the challenges of being a body that is going through the human condition. Whether she’s writing about yetis or mothers, Ma pulls us into a world where everything has been called into question, where even the genre in which she works her literary magic is not always clear.”

Isaac Butler won the nonfiction award for The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act (Bloomsbury), a chronicle of Stanislavski’s system for acting. Committee chair Ruben Quesada called it an “astounding intellectual and social history that poses intriguing lines of inquiry about identity politics and dramatizes the sparkling contradictions between character, self-perception, and public perceptions that enabled a stunning transformation—before the era of the super-blockbuster.”

The winner for autobiography was Hua Hsu for Stay True: A Memoir (Doubleday). Committee chair Heather Scott Partington called it a “clear-eyed and vulnerable exploration of platonic friendship and lifelong loss, describing how Hsu’s account of a college-age friendship “demonstrates how earnest teens seek to define themselves in dichotomies, and how it’s our routines that create our identities.”

The biography award went to Beverly Gage, author of G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century (Viking). “In this astounding biography, Gage has miraculously untangled those contradictions and our own paradoxical national story involving American anxieties over security, masculinity, and race,” said committee chair Elizabeth Taylor, noting that “with propulsive energy and elan . . . Gage weaves revelations from new archival discoveries and nuanced historical interpretations.”

Timothy Bewes won the criticism award for Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age (Columbia University Press). Writing for the NBCC website, prize judge Jennie Hann noted, “while Bewes illustrates the limitations of traditional approaches to the study of the novel, he somehow finds a way to transcend them. The result is a densely packed volume that erupts with insight on every page. Bewes has produced a work for the ages—an intervention in critical theory that will forever change the way we read fiction.”

The winner for poetry was Cynthia Cruz for Hotel Oblivion (Four Way Books). Committee chair Rebecca Morgan Frank observed the poet’s “curation of carefully staged snapshots of inquiry,” in which emerge such questions as: “What is a body and how can it possibly contain us? How does a poem move through the fragments of memory, knowledge, and images we each contain?”

The inaugural Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize is shared by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov and translator Boris Dralyuk for the novel Grey Bees (Deep Vellum). Deputy committee chair [SR1] Mandana Chaffa, sharing remarks from committee chair Tara Wanda Merrigan, said Grey Bees is a “subtle, captivating novel about an isolated man living in the “gray zone” between Ukraine and the breakaway Donetsk region (prior to the 2022 Russian invasion) . . . The novel, which Kurkov calls his ‘personal farewell to the Crimea that may never exist again,’ artfully illuminates the tragedies suffered on Ukrainian lands while maintaining a broad, humanistic focus on the crisis’s aftermath.”

The second inaugural prize of the night went to Barbara Hoffert for the NBCC Service Award. Hoffert served for many years on the NBCC board and held numerous roles including president and awards chair. In his remarks, former NBCC president Eric Banks shared the organization’s impression of her in 1997, when she was elected president: “She was singled out for praise for her warmth, her inclusiveness, and her accessibility, as well as her unflagging efforts on behalf of the organization. It’s a relief to realize that in a period of monumental change in the book world and in the universe of book reviewing, some things remain the same. Barbara not only helped shape the awards format we enjoy tonight, she not only guided the NBCC into the new century, she also remains a paragon of collegiality and camaraderie.”
Morgan Talty won the John Leonard Prize for a first book, judged by voting members of the NBCC, for the story collection Night of the Living Rez (Tin House). Committee chair Adam Dalva called the book “magnificent,” noting that Talty’s images—“hair frozen in snow, teeth rattling in a jar, are as indelible as his brilliant sentences.” Describing the judges’ deliberation process, Dalva noted their appreciation of the “knotty duality of the younger and older selves of the book’s protagonist, David,” adding that “these are heartful stories, and often sad ones, as the residents of Maine’s Penobscot Indian Nation Reservation struggle with addiction and poverty, but Talty’s deft touch provides humor and beauty in the face of despair.”
The recipient of the 2020 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, given to an NBCC member for exceptional critical work, was Jennifer Wilson. “In graceful, well-crafted prose enriched by deep understanding of her subject, Jennifer Wilson turns a review of a new translation of an unfinished novel by Alexander Pushkin, ‘Peter the Great’s African,’ into a sophisticated exploration of how the great Russian poet’s personal heritage as the great-grandson of a Black African informed his art and shaped his understanding of what it meant to be Russian,” says prize chair Colette Bancroft.

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was Joy Harjo.
“Among the illustrious prior winners of the Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award are individuals whose own literary works have transformed book culture and also those whose activism and service on behalf of other writers has proven to be of remarkable influence,” says prize committee chair Jacob M. Appel. “As a three-term United States Poet Laureate and a leading voice for Native American communities on and off the pages, Harjo embodies both of these legacies. Drawing upon the traditions of the Muscogee Nation and the vast landscape of her unbounded imagination, Harjo speaks in a distinctive, indelible language of myth and music. She stands not only as a literary envoy for indigenous peoples everywhere, but also as the unrivaled ambassador of American poetry.”

The recipient of the second annual Toni Morrison Achievement Award, established by the NBCC in 2021 to honor institutions that have made lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture, was the San Francisco-based bookstore and independent publisher, City Lights. “The impact of City Lights on American literature has been revolutionary,” says Appel, “which may be the highest compliment one can bestow upon an enterprise whose goal since its inception has been to transform both the realm of literature and society beyond. Since its founding in the early 1950s by Peter D. Martin and Lawrence Ferlinghetti—the latter himself a former Sandrof Award honoree—City Lights has introduced American audiences to audacious new voices, inviting us to lunch with Frank O’Hara, wander with Marie Ponsot, and howl with Allen Ginsberg. Far more than a press or a bookshop, City Lights shines as a beacon for innovation and justice and as a guiding flare for readers and writers across the globe who dream of a better world.”

Recipients of the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Awards

Hua Hsu, Stay True: A Memoir (Doubleday)


Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century (Viking)

Timothy Bewes, Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age (Columbia)


Ling Ma, Bliss Montage: Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Isaac Butler, The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act (Bloomsbury)


Cynthia Cruz, Hotel Oblivion (Four Way)

The Gregg Barrios Prize for Book in Translation

Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Boris Dralyuk (Deep Vellum)

The John Leonard Prize
Morgan Talty, Night of the Living Rez (Tin House)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing
Jennifer Wilson

Toni Morrison Achievement Award 
City Lights
The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
Joy Harjo

Bios of award recipients:

Timothy Bewes is professor of English at Brown University. His books include The Event of Postcolonial Shame (2011); Reification, or The Anxiety of Late Capitalism (2002); and Cynicism and Postmodernity (1997).

Isaac Butler is the coauthor (with Dan Kois) of The World Only Spins Forward, which NPR named one of the best books of 2018. Butler’s writing has appeared in New York magazine, Slate, the Guardian, American Theatre, and other publications. His work as a director has been seen on stages throughout the United States. Butler holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Minnesota and teaches theater history and performance at the New School and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Cynthia Cruz is the author of four collections of poetry, including three with Four Way Books: The Glimmering Room (2012), Wunderkammer (2014), and How the End Begins (2016). Cruz has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in writing and an MFA in Art Criticism & Writing from the School of Visual Arts. Cruz is currently pursuing a PhD in German Studies at Rutgers University. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Boris Dralyuk is the author of My Hollywood and Other Poems (Paul Dry Books, 2022) and the translator of Isaac Babel, Andrey Kurkov, Maxim Osipov, and other authors. His poems, translations, and criticism have appeared in the NYRB, the TLS, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Formerly editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books, he is currently an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Tulsa.

Beverly Gage is professor of 20th-century American history at Yale. She is the author of The Day Wall Street Exploded, which examined the history of terrorism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She writes frequently for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker, among other publications.

Hua Hsu is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of Literature at Bard College. Hsu serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. He was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his family.

Andrey Kurkov (born 1961) has been a journalist, prison warder, cameraman, and screenwriter in addition to his career as an internationally known novelist. He received “hundreds of rejections” and was a pioneer of self-publishing, selling more than seventy-five thousand copies of his books in a single year. His novel Death and the Penguin, his first in English translation, became an international bestseller, translated into more than thirty languages. As well as writing fiction for adults and children, he has become known as a commentator and journalist on Ukraine for the international media. His work of reportage, Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev, was published in 2014, followed by the novel The Bickford Fuse (MacLehose Press, 2016). He lives in Kyiv with his British wife and their three children.

Ling Ma is a writer hailing from Fujian, Utah, and Kansas. She is the author of the novel Severance, which received the Kirkus Prize, a Whiting Award, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and the story collection Bliss Montage, which received the Story Prize. She lives in Chicago with her family.

Morgan Talty, a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation. His debut short story collection, Night of the Living Rez won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the American Academy of Arts & Letters Sue Kaufman Prize, the New England Book Award, and was a Finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, and The Story Prize. Night of the Living Rez was named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, NPR, Esquire, Oprah Daily and more. His writing has appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, LitHub, and elsewhere. His novel, Fire, Exit is forthcoming from Tin House. He lives in Levant, Maine. 

The National Book Critics Circle 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 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 You can follow the NBCC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@bookcritics).