The National Book Critics Circle Awards

Each year, the National Book Critics Circle presents awards for the finest books published in English in six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Biography, Autobiography, Poetry, and Criticism.

In addition, we award the John Leonard Prize for the best first book in any genre, voted on by NBCC membership; the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which recognizes outstanding work by a member of the NBCC; and the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award and Toni Morrison Achievement Award, which are given respectively to individuals and literary institutions for transformative contributions to book culture. Beginning in 2023, we’ll award the Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize, for the best book of any genre translated into English and published in the United States.

1981 Winners & Finalists

Fiction Winner

  • John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich (Knopf)

Fiction Finalists

  • Robert Stone, A Flag for Sunrise (Knopf)
  • Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (Summit)
  • Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Putnam)
  • Leonard Michaels, The Men’s Club (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

General Nonfiction Winner

  • Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (Norton)

General Nonfiction Finalists

  • James Fallows, National Defense (Random House)
  • T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (Pantheon)
  • Dumas Malone, The Sage of Monticello: Jefferson and His Time, Volume Six (Little, Brown)
  • Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk (University of Pennsylvania Press)

Poetry Winner

  • A.R. Ammons, A Coast of Trees (Norton)

Poetry Finalists

  • Douglas Crase, The Revisionist (Little, Brown)
  • Daniel Hoffman, Brotherly Love (Random House/Vintage)
  • Donald Finkel, What Manner of Beast (Atheneum)
  • Edward Hirsch, The Sleepwalkers (Knopf)

Criticism Winner

  • Virgil Thomson, A Virgil Thomson Reader (Houghton Mifflin)

Criticism Finalists

  • Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays (North Point Press)
  • Martin Gardner, Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (Prometheus Books)
  • Edward Mendelson, Early Auden (Viking)
  • Thomas G. Bergin, Boccaccio (Viking)