Philip Roth's "The Counterlife" has won National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, the NBCC announced on Jan. 11. Winners in the 500-member organization's other book award categories are: in general nonfiction, Richard Rhodes for "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (Simon & Schuster); in biography, the late Donald R. Howard for "Chaucer: His Life, His Work, His World" (William Abrahams/ E. P. Dutton); in poetry, C. K. Williams for "Flesh and Blood" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); in criticism, Edwin Denby for "Dance Writings" (Alfred A. Knopf).
The NBCC presents two non-book awards. This year, its reviewing citation goes to Josh Rubins, who was for seven years co-editor of Kirkus Reviews. Its Board Award for general contribution to literature and criticism goes to Robert Giroux, chairman of the board of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
The NBCC solicits nominations from its membership, which includes most of the newspaper-affiliated book reviewers of the country and a variety of other editors and writers. Any title nominated by 20% of the membership wins automatic nomination for the NBCC award in its category. Remaining nominee slots, if any, are filled by the NBCC's 24-member elected board; and the board selects the winners. (The Book Review announced the NBCC nominees in Elizabeth Mehren's The Book Trade on Dec. 20, 1987.)
Both the fiction and the general nonfiction winners were among those nominated by the membership this year, but differences between the board and the membership were striking in two of the other areas. Sharon Olds' "The Gold Cell," the book of poetry most admired by the membership, fell several votes short of automatic nomination and was not among the nominees chosen by the board. Edwin Denby's "Dance Writings," nominated and named winner in criticism by the board, had not received a single vote from the membership.
Because of the genuinely national base of the National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, its awards have been growing steadily in prestige. The gathering of critics and reviewers that will take place in New York, Jan. 28, when the prizes are presented is being made the occasion, this year more than in previous years, for a set of publishers' receptions and related events. The progress of the NBCC awards is of particular note because the awards bring no money with them. Only prestige, but with each year, a little more of that.
(Editor's note: A review of Philip Roth's "The Counterlife," just out in paperback, appears on Page 14. A poem by C.K. Williams appears on Page 4.)