Rachel Kushner’s prison novel “The Mars Room,” poetry and criticism by Terrance Hayes and essays by Zadie Smith were among the finalists announced Tuesday for the National Book Critics Circle prize.
Judges chose an eclectic range of 31 books in six competitive categories, from fiction to criticism to autobiography, for which six finalists were picked. The subject matter included everything from Shakespeare to baseball to Kushner’s grim but compassionate story of a woman inmate in a Bay Area facility.
Also nominated were longtime music critic Robert Christgau, the late fiction writer Denis Johnson and investigative author Lawrence Wright. Sports writer Jane Leavy was a finalist in biography for “The Big Fella,” her book on Babe Ruth, and Tara Westover an autobiography nominee for her best-selling “Educated.” Hayes was cited in two categories: in poetry for “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin” and in criticism for “To Float in the Space Between.”
Honorary prizes were announced for NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan, Latino publisher Arte Publico and Tommy Orange’s acclaimed novel “There There,” cited as the best debut book of 2018 (but bypassed as a fiction finalist).
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Winners in the competitive categories will be announced March 14.
Besides Kushner’s novel and Johnson’s “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” fiction nominees were Anna Burns’ “Milkman,” Patrick Chamoiseau’s “Slave Old Man” (translated from the French and Creole by Linda Coverdale) and Luis Alberto Urrea’s “The House of Broken Angels.”
In nonfiction, finalists were Wright’s “God Save Texas,” Francisco Cantú’s “The Line Becomes a River,” Steve Coll’s “Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Greg Lukianoff’s and Jonathan Haidt’s “The Coddling of the American Mind” and Adam Winkler’s “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.”
Besides Leavy’s “The Big Fella,” biography finalists were Craig Brown’s “Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret,” Christopher Bonanos’s “Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous,” Yunte Huang’s “Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History” and Mark Lamster’s “The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century.”
Autobiography finalists included Westover, Richard Beard’s “The Day That Went Missing,” Nicole Chung’s “All You Can Ever Know,” Rigoberto Gonzalez’s “What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth,” Nora Krug’s “Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home” and Nell Painter’s “Old in Art School.”
In poetry, nominees besides Hayes were Ada Limón’s “The Carrying,” Diane Seuss’ “Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl,” Erika Meitner’s “Holy Moly Carry Me” and Adam Zagajewski’s “Asymmetry,” translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.
Criticism finalists were Hayes, Stephen Greenblatt’s “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics,” Lacy Johnson’s “The Reckonings,” Smith’s “Feel Free” and Christgau’s career-spanning anthology “Is It Still Good to Ya?”
The book critics circle was founded in 1974 and includes around 750 critics and editors, along with student members and other supporters.