“The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, her epic novel about racism, resilience and identity named in honor of the influential black scholar and activist, received the Fiction Prize from the National Book Critics Circle.
Critics’ Circle praised Jeffers for “weaving centuries of ancestor ‘songs’ into his account of coming of age and the young adulthood of a brilliant Atlanta scholar”. Jeffers, an English professor at the University of Oklahoma and author of five books of poetry, was among the honorees announced Thursday at a ceremony held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the non-fiction category, the award went to “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith. 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 the biography award, and Jeremy Atherton Lin’s “Gay Bar: Why Went Out” was named Best Autobiography. The Poetry Prize went to “Frank: Sonnets” by Diane Seuss and the Critics’ Prize to “Girlhood” by Melissa Febos.
Antthony Veasna So, a much-loved author who died suddenly in 2020 at the age of 28, received posthumous praise on Thursday. His collection of stories “Afterparties” received the John Leonard Award for Best First Book. Leonard, a founding member of NBCC who died in 2008, was known for his support of emerging writers.
The first Toni Morrison Achievement Award, established last year in honor of the late Nobel laureate and awarded to “institutions that have made lasting and significant contributions to book culture”, was awarded to the Cave Foundation Canem. A self-described “house of black poetry” established in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, the foundation has helped support award-winning poets such 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,” has received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the critics circle’s first president. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Criticism, named after the late critic and NBCC co-founder, was awarded to New York contributor Merve Emre.
The NBCC was founded in 1974 and includes hundreds of “critics, authors, literary bloggers, book publishing professionals, student members and friends”.