By Members Of The National Book Critics Circle Board

Safiya Sinclair, Lorrie Moore, and Roxanna Asgarian among National Book Critics Circle Award Winners 

New York, NY (March 21, 2024)—Tonight at the New School, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2023. As NBCC President Heather Scott Partington stated, “We celebrate your imagination, your fearlessness, and your persistence. Your words are essential, particularly in this time of division and censorship.” 

The winners include Lorrie Moore in fiction, for I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home (Knopf). Committee chair David Varno declared: “I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home is a heartbreaking and hilarious ghost story about a man who considers what it means to be human in a world infected by, as Moore puts it, ‘voluntary insanity.’ It’s an unforgettable achievement from a landmark American author.”

Roxanna Asgarian won the nonfiction award for We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Committee chair Jo Livingstone described We Were Once a Family as “a meticulous, harrowing, and deeply empathetic investigation into the murder-suicide of six children and their adoptive parents.”

The winner for autobiography was Safiya Sinclair for How to Say Babylon: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster). As committee member Jane Ciabattari stated, “Safiya Sinclair’s intimately crafted memoir is unforgettable and a shining example of why poets should write prose. The Eden of Sinclair’s Jamaican childhood is irrevocably altered under her father’s strict Rastafarian upbringing which first constrains, and then threatens, her life. Discovering the power of her own voice sets her free.”

The biography award went to Jonny Steinberg, author of Winnie and Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage (Knopf). Committee chair Elizabeth Taylor noted that “Steinberg’s deeply insightful, painstakingly researched Winnie and Nelson unmasks the Mandelas, sliding past their public mythos, and the simpler romantic narrative they told each other, to reveal the emotional labyrinth beneath. With its exploration of two radically different approaches to apartheid, this beautiful biography speaks movingly to present-day struggles for racial justice.”

Tina Post won the criticism award for Deadpan: The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression (NYU Press). Committee chair J. Howard Rosier praised Deadpan as “a book that recontextualizes the act of withholding to taxonomize its origins and uses—specifically, the tact it assumes when intersecting with blackness.”

The winner for poetry was Kim Hyesoon for Phantom Pain Wings, translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions). Committee chair Rebecca Morgan Frank observed, “Phantom Pain Wings presents a stunningly original and audacious work in which grief and interventions with patriarchy and war trauma are embodied in a capacious and visceral ventriloquism that Kim Hyesoon calls an ‘I-do-bird sequence’: ‘Bird cuts me out / like the way sunlight cuts out shadows // Hole enters/ the spot where I was cut out/ I exit.’”

The Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize, which honors both the author and translator, went to Maureen Freely’s translation of the late author Tezer Özlü’s Cold Nights of Childhood (Transit Books). As committee chair Mandana Chaffa remarked, “Maureen Freely’s evocative translation from Turkish strikingly depicts the haunting interior life of an unsettled young woman seeking happiness and self-determination against the backdrop of a swiftly changing Turkish society.”

Tahir Hamut Izgil won the John Leonard Prize for Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet’s Memoir of China’s Genocide (Penguin Press), translated by Joshua L. Freeman. As committee chair Adam Dalva stated, “The John Leonard Prize for best debut book is voted on by NBCC members, who found this astonishing memoir both heartfelt and urgent, terrifying and illuminating. Izgil and Freeman offer a clear-eyed, beautifully rendered detailing of the ongoing atrocities committed against the Uyghurs, from the most personal of perspectives. As one voter put it: it’s a miracle that this book exists.”

The NBCC Service Award went to Marion Winik. As past NBCC President Megan Labrise said in her remarks, “This year’s award is for extraordinary service by an exceptional critic at a crucial time in the organization’s history.” Winik is the author of many books, including The Big Book of the Dead and Above Us Only Sky. Her reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times MagazinePeople, Newsday, The Washington Post, NPR All Things Considered, and monthly at Baltimore Fishbowl, among other outlets. A former NBCC treasurer, Winik helped guide the organization through the pandemic. As Labrise stated: “Quantity and quality is the Winik way.” 

The recipient of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, given to an NBCC member for exceptional critical work, was Becca Rothfeld. Rothfeld is the nonfiction book critic for The Washington Post, an editor at The Point, a contributing editor at The Boston Review, and author of the forthcoming debut essay collection All Things Are Too Small. Rothfeld’s reviews of Benjamin Labatut’s brainy novel The Maniac and Senator Josh Hawley’s self-help book Manhood, “dazzled the judges with depth, range, humor and elegant writing,” stated Balakian committee chair Colette Bancroft. “The reviews brilliantly embodied her insight, range and depth of knowledge in lively and persuasive prose.” 

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was Judy Blume. As award chair Jacob M. Appel states, “Blume, whose widely acclaimed works include such modern classics as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, has inspired generations of young readers by tackling the emotional turbulence of girlhood and adolescence with authenticity, candor and courage. As her works generated controversy, she earned a national reputation as a relentless opponent of censorship and an iconic champion of literary freedom.” Blume accepted the award remotely from the bookstore she runs in Key West, thanking the American Library Association for “their tireless work in protecting our intellectual freedoms,” and her parents for “the freedom to choose my own books. They never judged what I wanted to read….Their encouragement kept me going.” 

The recipient of the 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 American Library Association. As Appel states, “We honor the ALA for its longstanding commitment to equity, including its twentieth century campaigns against library segregation and for LGBT+ literature, and its perennial stance as a bulwark against those regressive and illiberal supporters of book bans. At a time when our nation’s libraries remain under relentless assault from both political and economic forces, the ALA towers over the literary landscape as a beacon for our most vulnerable voices.” 

The National Book Critics Circle Awards, founded in 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel and considered among the most prestigious in American letters, are the sole prizes bestowed by a jury of working critics and book review editors. 

Recipients of the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Awards 


Safiya SinclairHow to Say Babylon: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster)


Jonny SteinbergWinnie and Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage (Knopf)


Tina PostDeadpan: The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression (NYU Press)


Lorrie MooreI Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home (Knopf)


Roxanna AsgarianWe Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Kim HyesoonPhantom Pain Wings, translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions)

Maureen Freely’s translation of Cold Nights of Childhood by Tezer Özlü (Transit Books)


Tahir Hamut IzgilWaiting to Be Arrested at NightA Uyghur Poet’s Memoir of China’s Genocide, translated by Joshua L. Freeman (Penguin Press)


Marion Winik


Becca Rothfeld


American Library Association


Judy Blume


Roxanna Asgarian is a Texas-based independent journalist who writes about child welfare and the law. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York, and Texas Monthly, among other publications. She received the 2022 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for We Were Once a Family.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Don Mee Choi is the author of the National Book Award winning collection DMZ ColonyHardly WarThe Morning News Is Exciting, and several chapbooks and pamphlets of poems and essays. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, MacArthur Fellowship, Whiting Award, Lannan Literary Fellowship, Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, and DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship. She has translated several collections of Kim Hyesoon’s poetry, including Autobiography of Death, which received the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize.

Maureen Freely is a writer, translator, and Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies and a member of English PEN. She is the author of six novels, three works of non-fiction and is the translator of five books by the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Joshua L. Freeman is a historian of modern China and a translator of Uyghur literature. His writing and translations have appeared in The New York TimesThe Guardian, and elsewhere. He is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, in Taiwan.

Kim Hyesoon is the author of several books of poetry and essays. She has received many awards for her poetry, including the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize for Autobiography of Death and the prestigious Samsung Ho-Am Prize in 2022.

Tahir Hamut Izgil is one of the foremost poets writing in Uyghur. He grew up in Kashgar, attended college in Beijing, and worked as a film director in the Uyghur region. His writing has appeared in The AtlanticThe New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives near Washington, DC.

Lorrie Moore is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. She is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Tezer Özlü was born in 1943 in Turkey and lived in Paris, Ankara, Istanbul, Berlin, and Zurich, where she died in 1986. Cold Nights of Childhood is her first novel to be translated into English.

Tina Post is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Chicago. 

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award in Literature, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Cannibal was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books of the Year, was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Seamus Heaney First Book Award in the UK, and was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Jonny Steinberg is the author of several books about everyday life in the wake of South Africa’s transition to democracy. He is a two-time winner of South Africa’s premier nonfiction prize, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award, and an inaugural winner of the Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes. Until 2020, he was professor of African studies at Oxford University. He currently teaches part-time at Yale and at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in Johannesburg.

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 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 You can follow the NBCC on FacebookX, and Instagram.