Awards Finalists, Reviews from NBCC Members

The finalists for the 2019 NBCC awards were announced this past Saturday at Bo’s in New York, along with the winners of the John Leonard Prize, the Balakian, and the Sandrof. Find all the details here, and  buy your tickets for the reception following the awards ceremony on March 12.

NBCC Member Reviews

Kamil Ahsan reviewed Garth Greenwell’s second book, Cleanness, for the A.V. Club, noting how the author’s work “reclaim(s) the ‘filthy’ spaces of queer longing.”

Carlos Lozada reviewed Donald Trump Jr.’s book, Triggered, for the Washington Post, comparing it (un)favorably to his father’s Art of the Deal.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Adam Kay’s memoir, This Is Going to Hurt, for the Boston Globe.

Eric Liebetrau reviewed Jodie Kirshner Adam’s Broke for the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Columbia Magazine.

Lanie Tankard reviewed They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Swedish author Johannes Anyuru for the winter issue of World Literature Today.

Lydia Pyne reviewed Elizabeth Hennessy’s On The Backs Of Tortoises for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Oline H. Cogdill’s review of Liz Moore’s Long Bright River for the Associated Press was picked up by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation for NPR.

Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein reviewed Divested: Inequality In The Age Of Finance by Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely for the New Republic.

Tayla Burney interviewed Crissy Van Meter for Kirkus about her debut novel, Creatures.

Bridget Quinn reviewed Stefano Bloch’s gritty and scholarly memoir, Going All City: Struggle and Survival in LA’s Graffiti Subculture from University of Chicago Press for Hyperallergic.

Lisa R Spaar reviewed Andrew Zawacki’s latest collection Unsun: f/11 for Ron Slate’s On the Seawall.

Eric Nguyen reviewed Pain by Zeruya Shalev, translated by Sondra Silverstone for Necessary Fiction.

Alison Buckholtz reviewed Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit for the Florida Times-Union.

Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari’s “Books to Read in 2020” for BBC Culture includes new novels from NBCC fiction award winners Louise Erdrich and Hilary Mantel.

Hamilton Cain reviewed Steve Inskeep’s Imperfect Union, which will run in this Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Announcing the finalists for the 2019 NBCC Awards

The board of the National Book Critics Circle announces the finalists for its 2019 awards in six categories: Autobiography, Biography, Criticism, Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry. The winners will be announced at a celebration on March 12 in New York.

In addition, today the recipients of three annual honors, the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award and the John Leonard Award for First Book are announced — they can be found below the finalists.


Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child by Laura Cumming (Scribner)

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow (Little, Brown)

Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (W. W. Norton)

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (One World)

Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller (Viking)


Gods of the Upper Air: How A Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century by Charles King (Doubleday)

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth by Josh Levin (Little, Brown)

L.E.L.: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated “Female Byron” by Lucasta Miller (Knopf)

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer (Knopf)

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell (Viking)


Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib (University of Texas Press)

Essays One by Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman (W.W. Norton)

Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, 100 Art Writings 1988-2018 by Peter Schjeldahl (Abrams)

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin (Transit Books)


Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg (Scribner)

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)


Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future by Kate Brown (W.W. Norton)

The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution by Peter Hessler (Penguin Press)

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)

Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives by Walt Odets (irFarrar, Straus and Giroux)

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder (Bloomsbury)


The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press)

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf Press)

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker (Tin House)

Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)

Doomstead Days by Brian Teare (Nightboat Books)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing is an annual award recognizing 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, and comes with a cash prize of $1,000 funded by board member Gregg Barrios. The winner of the 2019 Balakian Prize is Katy Waldman.

The Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement

The Sandrof Award is given to a person or institution — a writer, publisher, critic, or editor, among others — who has, over time, made significant contributions to book culture. The recipient of the 2019 Sandrof Award is  Naomi Shihab Nye.

The John Leonard Award for Best First Book

The 2019 John Leonard Prize for Best First Book, which is selected by the organization’s membership, goes to The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, published by Grove.

The awards

The NBCC awards will be presented March 12, 2020 at the New School in New York City. They are preceded by a finalists’ reading on March 11. Both events are free and open to the public.

Those who want to support the NBCC are invited to join winners, finalists and critics at our fundraising reception after the prizes on March 12. Tickets are available here.

NBCC elects new board members

We are pleased to announce the new board members of the National Book Critics Circle. The 24 member board sees 8 members rotate off each year and new members are elected to fill those places. This year, 26 candidates stood for election — thanks to all who participated, and to the membership for voting.

The new members will join the board in March 2020, after the 2019 awards, and will serve until 2023.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the nine new or re-elected members of the board. (Because former president Kate Tuttle will be stepping down after this year’s term, we are welcoming the top nine vote-getters rather than the usual eight.) Congratulations to all.

Jacob Appel is a writer, teacher and critic whose focus is on independent presses. He joins the board for the first time.

Colette Bancroft is the book editor of the Tampa Bay Times in Tampa, Florida and a veteran of the NBCC. 

Jane Ciabattari is a book columnist based in Northern California. A former president of the NBCC, she has served in many capacities at the organization. 

Lori Feathers returns to the board for a second term. She is a freelance book critic and co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas, Texas.  

Megan Labrise, editor at large for Kirkus Reviews, is a writer and critic based in Portland, Oregon. She joins the board for the first time.

Jessica Loudis returns to the board for a second term. She is an editor and writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the London Review of Books and elsewhere.

John McWhorter returns to the board for a second term. He teaches at Columbia University and writes for Time, CNN and the Atlantic and has a podcast at Slate. 

Connie Ogle is on staff at the Miami Herald, where she was books editor. She joins the board for the first time.

Richard Santos is a critic and teacher in Austin, Texas. His debut novel will be published in 2020 by Arte Publico Press, and he joins the board for the first time.

National Book Critics Circle announces finalists for 2019 John Leonard Prize for Best First Book

The NBCC membership has selected the following titles as finalists for the John Leonard Prize for the best first book published in 2019:

Fleishman Is In Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Random House)

The Yellow House: A Memoir, Sarah M. Broom (Grove)

The Unpassing, Chia-Chia Lin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir, T Kira Madden (Bloomsbury)

Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips (Knopf)

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, Jia Tolentino (Random House)

Lot: Stories, Bryan Washington (Riverhead)

Nominations for the John Leonard Prize for a first book in any genre are solicited from the voting members of the NBCC. Finalists for the Prize are the titles that received the most nominations. A panel of NBCC member-volunteers will read the finalists and select the winner, which will be announced on January 11, 2020. The John Leonard Prize will be presented at the NBCC Awards Ceremony in New York City on March 12, 2020.

Posted December 6, 2019

Critical Notes: Awards News and Member Reviews

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…

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviewed Lindy West’s The Witches are Coming for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Balakian citation recipient Carlos Lozada reviewed Rich Lowry’s The Case for Nationalism for the Washington Post. 

Ryan Chapman interviewed Jonathan Lethem about the film adaptation of Motherless Brooklyn for InsideHook.

Eric Nguyen reviewed Monique Truong’s novel The Sweetest Fruits for diaCRITICS.

Clifford Garstang reviewed Daphne Kalotay’s novel Blue Hours for Consequence.

Jenny Shank reviewed Kevin Wilson’s novel Nothing to See Here for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House for the Boston Globe and Adam P. Frankel’s memoir The Survivors for the Forward.

Board member David Varno reviewed Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic for On the Seawall, discussing how the author’s “blended method of autobiography, criticism, and reportage both echoes and diverges from fellow genre bender Emmanuel Carrère.”

Cassandra Luca reviewed Ali Wong’s Dear Girls for the Harvard Crimson.

Jim Ruland interviewed Hanna Jameson about her dystopian thriller The Last for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Danielle Trussoni‘s latest horror column for the New York Times covers books H.P. Lovecraft and more.

Tobias Carroll wrote about contrarian writing for InsideHook and reviewed Johannes Anyuru’s novel They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears for

Bean Gilsdorf reviewed the anthology Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel, Girl, Woman, Other, for the Washington Independent Review of Books and Kevin Wilson’s novel Nothing To See Here for the National Book Review.

Melanie Dragger reviewed Good Things Out of Nazareth: The Uncollected Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Friends and Texas Seafood: A Cookbook and Comprehensive Guide for the Literary South.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell‘s essay “Talking Walls,” on “how places turn up in my work and following the vapor trail of memory,” was published in Fiction Writers Review.

Michael J. McCann reviewed The Bellamy Trial by Frances Noyes Hart, a reissue by American Mystery Classics presented by Otto Penzler, for the New York Journal of Books.

Zack Graham reviewed The Complete Gary Lutz for Epiphany.

Grace Lichtenstein reviewed Gail Collins’ No Stopping Us Now and Patricia Marx and Roz Chast’s Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct it? for NY City Woman.

Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari‘s November BBC Culture column includes new work from Lydia Davis, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, Carmen Maria Machado, Erin Morgenstern, and Shannon Pufahl.

Peggy Kurkowski reviewed T.H. Breen’s The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America for Open Letters Review.

Dana Wilde reviewed Agnes Bushell’s novel Asian Vespers for

Sam DiBella reviewed Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. for the LSE Review of Books.

Jean Huets interviewed clarinetist and composer Bryan A. Crumpler for the November issue of the Brooklyn Rail.

NBCC Treasurer Marion Winik reviewed Mary Gaitskill’s This Is Pleasure for the Washington Post, and wrote a column on titles and subtitles for Kirkus. Her latest book, The Big Book of the Dead was reviewed at Paperback Paris.

Priscilla Gilman also reviewed This Is Pleasure for the Boston Globe.

And in member news:  Kelsay Books has published member Erika Dreifus‘s first poetry collection, Birthright.

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

Photo of Jonathan Lethem at the 2012 NBCC awards by David Shankbone, used under Creative Commons license.

Critical Notes: Andre Aciman, Michael Connelly, Ann Patchett, and More

Photo of Hanif Abdurraqib by Andrew Cenci.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Johanna Stoberock’s novel Pigs for On the Seawall, and spotlighted a dozen books that blur genre borders (including NBCC finalist Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) for Electric Literature.

George de Stefano reviewed Dennis Altman’s Unrequited Love: The Diary of an Accidental Activist for PopMatters.

At Literary Hub, former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari discussed five great nonfiction books with metanarratives with Jeannie Vanasco; five great American social crime novels with Steph Cha; and five great books about criticism with Daniel Mendelsohn.

Diane Scharper reviewed Ann Patchett’s novel The Dutch House for America Magazine.

Jonathan Marks reviewed Daniel Gordis’s We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel, for the website of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

Elizabeth Lund recommends new poetry collections by Nick Flynn, Hanif Abdurraqib, Nancy Naomi Carlson, and Kathleen Graber for the Washington Post.

Benjamin Woodard profiled author Liz Moore, whose novel Long Bright River comes out in January, for Publishers Weekly.

Board member Carolyn Kellogg talked to Michael Connelly about his new book The Night Fire and the TV show Bosch for the Washington Post.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Alexandra Jacobs’s biography of Elaine Stritch, Still Here, for the Boston Globe, and Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill for the Forward.

Alexander C. Kafka reviewed Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants, for the Washington Post. 

Board member David Varno reviewed Brian Allen Carr’s novel Opioid, Indiana for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, calling it “a near-perfect anthem of disaffected youth in a small frozen town.” He also talked with Tim O’Brien about his memoir Dad’s Maybe Book, and about his method of storytelling, for the Millions.

Allen Adams reviewed Joe Posnanski’s The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini for the Maine Edge. 

For the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Oline H. Cogdill reviewed Charles Todd’s mystery A Cruel Deception; Naomi Hirahara’s mystery Iced in Paradise; and Michael Connelly’s The Night FireShe also covered Steph Cha’s thriller Your House Will Pay and Elizabeth Hand’s historical novel Curious Toys for the Associated Press.

Balakian recipient Scott McLemee recently reviewed a number of books for Inside Higher Ed, including Allison Stanger’s Whistleblowers: Honesty in America From Washington to Trump; Lars Svendsen’s Understanding Animals: Philosophy for Dog and Cat Lovers; Daniel M. Russell’s The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide to Going Beyond the Basics; and Susan Schneider’s Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind.

Board member Mark Athitakis spoke with Andre Aciman about his sequel to Call Me By Your NameFind Me, for Kirkus Reviews.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Find Me for the Washington Independent Review of Books; Zadie Smith’s collection of short stories, Grand Union, for the National Book Review; and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again, her sequel to Olive Kitteridge, for the National Book Review.

And in member news…

Lydia Pyne reports that her forthcoming book, Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach us About Real Stuff, was published in the UK in early August and will be released in the United States this week.

Zack Graham was interviewed for Literary Hub’s “Secrets of the Book Critics” feature.

Meg Waite Clayton reports that her international bestseller The Last Train to London (Harper in the U.S. and Canada, and coming in 22 editions in 19 languages) received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, and was called “standout historical fiction” by Publisher’s Weekly and “riveting” by member Jane Ciabattari, writing for the BBC.

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


It’s October 9, 2019, and you’ll see that our site looks a bit different today. We’re excited that we’ve been able to make these initial cosmetic changes and updates. We’ve made even more changes behind the scenes to provide better services for our members.

NBCC members, you haven’t yet, be sure to log in and create your individual page in our membership directory.