The Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov won a National Book Critics Circle Award for his novel “Grey Bees,” about a beekeeper living in the “gray zone” in the Donbas, a region torn by ongoing conflict between Russian proxies and the Ukrainian military.
In awarding the N.B.C.C.’s inaugural translation prize to Kurkov and his translator, Boris Dralyuk, the committee praised the novel for illuminating “the tragedies suffered on Ukrainian lands while maintaining a broad, humanistic focus on the crisis’s aftermath.”
The awards, which were announced on Thursday night at a ceremony at the New School in New York City, are among the most prestigious literary awards in the United States, and they stand out from other prizes because the recipients are selected by book critics, instead of committees made up of authors or academics.
The organization, which was founded in 1974, is made up of more than 600 critics and review editors. The awards recognize works published the prior year and are open to books published in English in the United States.
In addition to books, the committee awarded honors to the poet Joy Harjo, a three-term United States poet laureate, who received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of poetry; the critic Jennifer Wilson, who was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing; and the San Francisco-based bookstore and independent publisher City Lights, which received the Toni Morrison Achievement Award, an honor given by the committee to “institutions that have made lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture.”
Another inaugural prize, the N.B.C.C. Service Award, went to Barbara Hoffert, who served for many years on the organization’s board.
Below, a complete list of this year’s winners.
Ma, whose 2018 debut novel “Severance” proved eerily prescient in hinging on a global pandemic, won the fiction award for her surreal short story collection. In a citation, the committee chair Anita Felicelli praised the stories for capturing “the sometimes-startling indignities of race and immigrant experience, and the challenges of being a body that is going through the human condition.”
“The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act,” by Isaac Butler
In “The Method,” Butler, a writer and director, dissected the creative system developed by the Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavski, which radically transformed American theater and film and influenced performances in productions including “The Seagull,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Raging Bull.”
Gage, a professor of 20th-century American history at Yale, wrote the first major biography of Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, in nearly 30 years.
“Stay True: A Memoir,” by Hua Hsu
Hsu, a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of literature at Bard College, won acclaim for his wrenching account of his coming-of-age in Berkeley in the mid-1990s, where he befriended a classmate who was murdered in a carjacking. “Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of ‘Stay True’ sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout,” Jennifer Szalai wrote in a New York Times review.
The John Leonard Prize
“Night of the Living Rez,” by Morgan Talty
Talty’s stories are set in Maine on the Penobscot Indian Nation reservation, where the author grew up, and they evoke a reverence for the natural world and explore the effects of intergenerational trauma on individuals, families and communities. “These are heartful stories, and often sad ones, as the residents of Maine’s Penobscot Indian Nation Reservation struggle with addiction and poverty, but Talty’s deft touch provides humor and beauty in the face of despair,” the N.B.C.C. committee chair Adam Dalva said of the collection, which was recognized with an award for first books.
“Hotel Oblivion,” by Cynthia Cruz.
Cruz, the author of four poetry collections, explores in “Hotel Oblivion” the process of trying to find a way out of capitalist society.
“Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age,” by Timothy Bewes.
Bewes, a professor of English at Brown University, develops in this book a new theory of the novel for the 21st century.
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