Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards are given annually to honor outstanding writing and to foster a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. The awards are open to any book published in the United States in English. The National Book Critics Circle comprises more than 700 critics and editors from leading newspapers, magazines and online publications.
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Rich with hard-won wisdom and humanity, set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond, Everything Inside is at once wide in scope and intimate, as it explores the forces that pull us together, or drive us apart, sometimes in the same searing instant.
In these eight powerful, emotionally absorbing stories, a romance unexpectedly sparks between two wounded friends; a marriage ends for what seem like noble reasons, but with irreparable consequences; a young woman holds on to an impossible dream even as she fights for her survival; two lovers reunite after unimaginable tragedy, both for their country and in their lives; a baby’s christening brings three generations of a family to a precarious dance between old and new; a man falls to his death in slow motion, reliving the defining moments of the life he is about to lose.
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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress—with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past—Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.
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The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth by Josh Levin
On the South Side of Chicago in 1974, Linda Taylor reported a phony burglary, concocting a lie about stolen furs and jewelry. The detective who checked it out soon discovered she was a welfare cheat who drove a Cadillac to collect ill-gotten government checks. And that was just the beginning: Taylor, it turned out, was also a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer. A desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship-after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody-not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan-seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery.
Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of the color of her skin. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin’s mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism, and an expose of the “welfare queen” myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day. THE QUEEN tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.
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Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral—viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.
Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways—there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
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Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
Magical Negro is an archive of black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs. These American poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration, songs of congregation and self-conception. They connect themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification, while exploring troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans. Focused primarily on depictions of Black womanhood alongside personal narratives, the collection tackles interior and exterior politics–of both the body and society, of both the individual and the collective experience. In Magical Negro, Parker creates a space of witness, of airing grievances, of pointing out patterns. In these poems are living documents, pleas, latent traumas, inside jokes, and unspoken anxieties situated as firmly in the past as in the present–timeless black melancholies and triumphs.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman
In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Free love, common-law and transient marriages, queer relations, and single motherhood were among the sweeping changes that altered the character of everyday life and challenged traditional Victorian beliefs about courtship, love, and marriage. Hartman narrates the story of this radical social transformation against the grain of the prevailing century-old argument about the crisis of the black family.
In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship that were indifferent to the dictates of respectability. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work.
Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives re-creates the experience of young urban black women who desired an existence qualitatively different than the one that had been scripted for them-domestic service, second-class citizenship, and respectable poverty-and whose intimate revolution was apprehended as crime and pathology.
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John Leonard Prize
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant—the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.
A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.
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