NEW YORK – Honorée Fanonne Jeffers' “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” her epic novel about racism, resilience and identity named for the influential Black scholar and activist, has received the fiction prize from the National Book Critics Circle.
The critics circle praised Jeffers for "weaving several centuries’ worth of ‘songs’ from the ancestors into her narrative of the coming of age and young adulthood of a brilliant Atlanta scholar.” Jeffers, a professor of English at the University of Oklahoma and author of five poetry collections, was among the winners announced Thursday during a ceremony held online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the nonfiction category, the award was given to Clint Smith's “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America.” Rebecca Donner's “All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler” won for biography, and Jeremy Atherton Lin's “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out” was named the best autobiography. The poetry prize was given to Diane Seuss' “frank: sonnets," and the criticism award went to Melissa Febos' “Girlhood.”
Antthony Veasna So, a highly regarded author who died suddenly in 2020 at age 28, received posthumous praise on Thursday. His story collection “Afterparties” was awarded the John Leonard Prize for best first book. Leonard, a founding member of the NBCC who died in 2008, was known for his support for emerging writers.
The inaugural Toni Morrison Achievement Award, established last year in honor of the late Nobel laureate and presented to “institutions that have made lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture,” was given to the Cave Canem Foundation. A self-defined “home for Black poetry” started in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, the foundation has helped support such prize winning poets as Claudia Rankine and Tracy K. Smith.
Novelist Percival Everett, whose books include such meta-fiction as “Erasure” and “A History of the African-American People,” received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the critics circle's first president. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, named for the late critic and co-founder of the NBCC, was given to New Yorker contributor Merve Emre.
The NBCC was founded in 1974 and includes hundreds of “critics, authors, literary bloggers, book publishing professionals, student members, and friends.”