Los Angeles writers Maggie Nelson and Sam Quinones were among the winners of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Awards, revealed Thursday night in New York, and a novel set in South-Central L.A. took the prize for fiction.
Paul Beatty’s novel “The Sellout,” a satire about race relations in America, was the top pick in the fiction category, beating out other critically acclaimed books such as Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies" and Valeria Luiselli’s “The Story of My Teeth.”
Writing for The Times, Kiese Laymon called Beatty’s novel “a loud, spectacular book” and “a bruising novel that readers will likely never forget.”
Times reporter Matt Pearce interviewed Quinones last year for The Times. The author explained that the book had its origins in “a piece for the L.A. Times about an entire town in Mexico where everyone sells heroin retail in the United States and sells it like pizza.”
Nelson, who is on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts, was awarded the criticism award for “The Argonauts,” a hybrid memoir that focuses on her relationship with Harry Dodge, an artist who also teaches at CalArts.
In The Times, Sara Marcus reviewed “The Argonauts,” calling it “a keenly conceived whole … a book about using the writings of smart, even difficult writers to help us find clarity and precision in our intimate lives.”
The poetry award went to Ross Gay for his collection “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” which was also a finalist for an NAACP Image Award and a National Book Award.
Gay described his book in an interview with The Times: “I wanted to realize joy as a fundamental aspect of our lives and practice it as a discipline. Joy, at least the way I understand it, comes from the realization that we’re all going to die.”
Charlotte Gordon took home the biography prize for “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley.”
Also honored at Thursday night’s ceremony at the New School were the winners of three awards announced in January. Wendell Berry received the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement, and was introduced by actor Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”), a longtime fan of the novelist and poet.
Kirstin Valdez Quade was awarded the John Leonard First Book Prize for “Night at the Fiestas," and Carlos Lozada, a nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, was given the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
The National Book Critics Circle is a group with more than 700 members. The winners of their annual awards are selected by the group’s 24-member board of directors, including Times book editor Carolyn Kellogg.
Schaub is a member of the incoming board and did not vote on these awards.