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.

2021 Winners & Finalists


  • Joshua Cohen, The Netanyahus (NYRB)
  • Rachel Cusk, Second Place (FSG)
  • Sarah Hall, Burntcoat (Custom House)
  • Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Love Songs of W.E.B DuBois (Harper)
    Cover of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois; abstract images of a woman, a tree and a sun
  • Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday)


  • Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Doubleday)
  • Joshua Prager, The Family Roe: An American Story (Norton)
  • Sam Quinones, The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth (Bloomsbury)
  • Clint Smith, How the Word Is Passed (Little, Brown)
    Cover of How The Word is Passed; all text, with the title words bolded
  • Rebecca Solnit, Orwell's Roses (Viking)


  • Susan Bernofsky, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser (Yale University Press)
  • Keisha N. Blain, Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America (Beacon Press)
  • Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little, Brown)
    Cover of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days; an X created out of Nazi-era documents and photos
  • Mark Harris, Mike Nichols: A Life (Penguin Press)
  • Alexander Nemerov, Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York (Penguin Press)


  • Hanif Abdurraqib, A Little Devil in America: Notes In Praise Of Black Performance (Random House)
  • Jeremy Atherton Lin, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out (Little, Brown)
  • Rodrigo Garcia, A Farewell To Gabo And Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir (HarperVia)
  • Doireann Ní Ghríofa, A Ghost In the Throat (Biblioasis)
  • Albert Samaha, Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes (Riverhead)


  • B.K. Fischer, Ceive (BOA)
  • Donika Kelly, The Renunciations (Graywolf)
  • Rajiv Mohabir, Cutlish (Four Way)
  • Cheswayo Mphanza, The Rhinehart Frames (Univ. of Nebraska)
  • Diane Seuss, frank: sonnets (Graywolf)
    Cover of Frank: Sonnets; a shirtless man making a fist and curling his bicep


  • Melissa Febos, Girlhood (Bloomsbury)
    Cover of Girlhood; the word Girlhood, in shades of pink, repeated and gradually disappearing
  • Jenny Diski, Why Didn't You Do What You Were Told? (Bloomsbury)
  • Jesse McCarthy, Who Will Pay Reparations On My Soul? (Liveright)
  • Mark McGurl, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon (Verso)
  • Amia Srinivasan, The Right To Sex (FSG)

    John Leonard Prize

  • Ashley C. Ford, Somebody's Daughter (Flatiron Books)
  • Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, My Monticello (Henry Holt)
  • Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby (One World)
  • Larissa Pham, Pop Song (Catapult)
  • Anthony Veasna So, Afterparties (Ecco)
    The cover of Afterparties, with a pink sky and two boys smoking in a pickup truck
  • Devon Walker-Figueroa, Philomath (Milkweed Editions)

    Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

  • Christoph Irmscher
  • Julian Lucas
  • Jeremy Lybarger
  • Jennifer Wilson
  • Merve Emre

    Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Percival Everett

    Toni Morrison Achievement Award

  • Cave Canem Foundation