2014 National Book Critics Circle Award winners announced

Poet Claudia Rankine, photographed at home with dog Sammy, has won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
Poet Claudia Rankine, photographed at home with dog Sammy, has won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Claudia Rankine, Marilynne Robinson and Roz Chast were some of the winners of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Awards, which were announced Thursday at a ceremony at the New School in New York.

Claremont poet Rankine won the poetry award for “Citizen,” a collection that reflects on racism, community and American identity. Rankine was also nominated in the criticism category for the volume, marking the first time in the history of the awards that a book was a finalist in two different categories.

In an interview with Times critic David L. Ulin, Rankine noted, “It always surprises me when people say that the realm of the lyric is the personal and the personal is not political. I just don’t know how we can get to 2014 and say that with a straight face.”


Robinson won the fiction prize for her novel “Lila,” about a homeless woman who becomes an Iowa minister’s wife. Ulin had high praise for the novel and called Robinson “a novelist who can make the most quotidian moments epic because of her ability to peel back the surfaces of ordinary lives.”

Chast, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, took home the autobiography award for “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”, a graphic memoir about her aging and ill parents.

David Brion Davis won the nonfiction prize for “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation,” the final book in a trilogy about the history of slavery in the Western world.

John Lahr won the biography award for “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh,” which Charles McNulty reviewed for The Times, calling it “a work that is scintillating on the backstage and bedroom dramas and almost intrusively perceptive on the autobiographical nature of Williams’ art.”

The award for criticism was given to Ellen Willis, the pioneering pop music critic who died in 2006. The prize was accepted by Willis’ daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, who edited “The Essential Ellen Willis.”

In January, the National Book Critics Circle also announced winners of three special prizes, which were presented at the ceremony on Thursday: the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Toni Morrison; the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing was awarded to Alexandra Schwartz; and the John Leonard Prize for a first book in any category, in its second year, went to Phil Klay’s short story collection “Redeployment,” also the winner of the 2014 National Book Award for fiction.

The National Book Critics Circle has more than 700 members. The award finalists and winners are selected by the group’s board of directors (which includes Times staff writer Carolyn Kellogg).