Zadie Smith, Rachel Kushner among nominees for 2019 National Book Critics Circle Awards

Novelist Zadie Smith is among the finalists in the National Book Critics Circle Awards
Novelist Zadie Smith is among the finalists in the National Book Critics Circle Awards
(Tobias Schwarz / AFP/Getty Images)

The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its annual literary awards on Tuesday, with Zadie Smith, Rachel Kushner, Robert Christgau and the late Denis Johnson among the nominees.

Los Angeles author Kushner’s “The Mars Room” and Johnson’s “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” both made the shortlist in the fiction category, along with Luis Alberto Urrea’s “The House of Broken Angels,” Patrick Chamoiseau’s “Slave Old Man” and Anna Burns’ Man Booker Prize-winning “Milkman.”

UCLA law professor Adam Winkler’s “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights” was nominated in the nonfiction category. Other nonfiction nominees included Francisco Cantú's “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border,” Steve Coll’s “Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” and Lawrence Wright’s “God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State.”


The autobiography category featured six nominees instead of the usual five. Bakersfield native Rigoberto González made the shortlist for his memoir “What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood,” along with Richard Beard’s “The Day That Went Missing: A Family’s Story,” Nicole Chung’s “All You Can Ever Know,” Nora Krug’s “Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home,” Nell Painter’s “Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over” and Tara Westover’s “Educated.”

Poet Terrance Hayes was nominated for two books in two categories this year. His collection “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin” made the poetry shortlist, which also featured Sonoma, Calif., native Ada Limón’s “The Carrying,” Erika Meitner’s “Holy Moly Carry Me,” Diana Seuss’ “Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl” and Adam Zagajewski’s “Asymmetry.”

Hayes’ “To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation With the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight” was nominated in the criticism category along with Zadie Smith’s “Feel Free,” longtime rock critic Robert Christgau’s “Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967-2017,” Stephen Greenblatt’s “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics” and Lacy M. Johnson’s “The Reckoning.”

UC Santa Barbara professor Yunte Huang’s “Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous With American History” made the shortlist in the biography category. Other nominees included Christopher Bonanos’ “Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous,” Craig Brown’s “Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret,” Mark Lamster’s “The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century” and Jane Leavy’s “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created.”

In addition to the shortlists for the competitive awards, the National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of three special annual awards. Tommy Orange was named the winner of the John Leonard Prize for a first book in any genre for his novel “There There,” which previously made the longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and Houston-based Arte Público Press, a publisher of U.S. Latino authors, was named the winner of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

The National Book Critics Circle, a professional association with 632 voting members, has been giving out its annual awards since 1976. The nominees and winners are voted on by its 24 directors (including this reporter).

The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards will be announced at a ceremony in New York on March 14.