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The 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards

Book awards chosen by book critics


The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Awards are given each year to honor the best literature published in the United States for that year. The NBCC Awards are the only national literary awards chosen by critics themselves. The awards are bestowed to one book in each of six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as for lifetime achievement. In addition, each year an NBCC member is cited for his or her excellence in criticism.

The 2012 National Book Critics Finalists and Winners

The National Book Critics Circle announced finalists in each of the six categories, as well as other NBCC honors, in late 2012. The winners were announced on February 28, 2013 at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, New York City. Following is a complete list of the finalists for the 2012 NBCC Awards; the winners are marked with in bold with an *asterisk.


Reyna Grande, The Distance Between Us (Atria / Simon & Schuster)

Maureen N. McLane, My Poets (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Anthony Shadid, House of Stone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

*Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press)

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, In the House of the Interpreter (Pantheon / Random House)


*Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf / Random House)

Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (Liveright)

Lisa Jarnot, Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus (University of California Press)

Tom Reiss, The Black Count (Crown / Random House)


Paul Elie, Reinventing Bach (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (New York Review of Books)

Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave Books)

*Marina Warner, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Belknap Press / Harvard University Press)

Kevin Young, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press)


Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House)

Steve Coll, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (Penguin Press)

Jim Holt, Why Does the World Exist? (Norton)

David Quammen, Spillover (Norton)

*Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner / Simon & Schuster)


David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press)

Lucia Perillo, On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (Copper Canyon Press)

Allan Peterson, Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Books)
D. A. Powell, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press)

A. E. Stallings, Olives (Triquarterly: Northwestern University Press)

Laurent Binet, HHhH. tr. by Sam Taylor (Farrar Straus Girous)
* Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco Press / HarperCollins Publishers)

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son (Random House)

Lydia Millet, Magnificence (Norton)

Zadie Smith, NW (Penguin Press)

Additional National Book Critics Circle Honors

In addition to its six category award-winners, each year National Book Critics Circle also honors one or more of its deserving member critics with the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and choose an individual (or individuals) or an institution to receive its Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Acheivement Award.

The 2012 Nona A. Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing was awarded to William Deresiewicz (and, for the first time, the citation comes with $1,000 in cash thanks to a "generous donation" by board member Gregg Barrios).

(And Valerie gives a shout out to Billy D. for also being the author of A Jane Austen Education, about one of our favorite classic authors...)

The National Book Critics Circle confers the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award on a distinguished author, editor, publisher, or literary institution. In 2012 the Sandrof Award went to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar for their "pioneering work in feminist thought."

Read more about the history, background and criteria for the National Book Critics Circle Awards.

Read about other prestigious literary awards:

The National Book Award
The Pulitizer Prize for Letters
The Man Booker Prize

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