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Finalists for the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Awards

The competitors

2021 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists

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Stories set in Harlem in the early 1960s, a biography of black civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer and a follow-up to the U.S. opioid epidemic are among the 30 finalists selected by the National Book Critics Circle on Thursday, covering 2021- publications in six categories: autobiography, biography, critique, fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Six finalists were also selected for the John Leonard Prize, which is awarded to an author for the best first book in any genre. Among them are Torrey Peters, the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction nominated for “Detransition, Baby,” and the late Anthony Veasna So, who died in December 2020, for his posthumous short story collection, “Afterparties.”

NBCC fiction finalists include Colson Whitehead’s fast-paced robbery thriller, “Harlem Shuffle”; Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ extensive epic about Black family history, “The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois”; “Outline” trilogy author Rachel Cusk’s new novel, “Second Place”; Sarah Hall’s pandemic dystopia, “Burnt Coat”; and Joshua Cohen’s “The Netanyahu”.

Among the nominees in the non-fiction categories is a acclaimed biography of Mike Nichols; Hanif Abdurraqib’s Memorial Critique Hybrid, “A Little Devil in America”; Patrick Radden Keefe’s thrifty Sackler family history, “Empire of Pain”; and “How the Word is Passed,” Clint Smith’s travelogue on race inventory.

The NBCC Awards ceremony on March 17 will be virtual and streamed on Wildbound Live. During the free public event, the critics’ group will also present the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to author and prominent USC professor Percival Everett (previous winners include Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates and PEN America).

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Review goes to Merve Emre, with judges praising her essay on Leonora Carrington’s novel “The Hearing Trumpet” and the inaugural Toni Morrison Achievement Award established by NBCC last year will honor the Cave Canem Foundation for 25 years of “cultivating and promoting black poetic voices” and expanding the nation’s literary landscape.

The full list of finalists:

Autobiography
Hanif Abdurraqib, “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance”
Jeremy Atherton Lin, “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out”
Rodrigo Garcia, “A Farewell To Gabo And Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir of Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha”
Doireann Ní Ghríofa, “A Ghost in the Throat”
Albert Samaha, “Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes”

Biography
Susan Bernofsky, “Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser”
Keisha N. Blain, “Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Lasting Message to America”
Rebecca Donner, “All the Frequent Problems of Today: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of German Opposition to Hitler”
Mark Harris, “Mike Nichols: A Life”
Alexander Nemerov, “Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York”

Criticism
Melissa Febos, “Girlhood”
Jenny Diski, “Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told ?: Essays”
Jesse McCarthy, “Who Will Pay Compensation on My Soul ?: Essays”
Mark McGurl, “Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon”
Amia Srinivasan, “The Right to Sex: Feminism in the 21st Century”

Fiction
Joshua Cohen, “The Netanyahus”
Rachel Cusk, “Second Place”
Sarah Hall, “Burnt Coat”
Dear Fanonne Jeffers, “The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois”
Colson Whitehead, “Harlem Shuffle”

Non-fiction
Patrick Radden Keefe, “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty”
Joshua Prager, “The Family Roe: An American Story”
Sam Quinones, “The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth”
Clint Smith, “How the Word Is Passed: A Accounting with the History of Slavery Across America”
Rebecca Solnit, “Orwell’s Roses”

Poetry
BK Fischer, “Ceive”
Donika Kelly, “The Renunciations: Poems”
Rajiv Mohabir, “Cutlish”
Cheswayo Mphanza, “The Rinehart Frames”
Diane Seuss, “Frank: Sonnetter”

John Leonard Prize
Ashley C. Ford, “Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir”
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, “My Monticello: Fiction”
Torrey Peters, “Detransition, Baby”
Larissa Pham, “Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy”
Anthony Veasna So, “Afterparties: Stories”
Devon Walker-Figueroa, “Philomath: Poems”

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