Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad” was awarded the fiction prize from the National Book Critics Circle on Thursday evening, besting Jonathan Franzen’s widely publicized novel “Freedom” and works by David Grossman, Hans Keilson and Paul Murray.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Egan’s novel is an innovatively structured work about characters involved in the music industry. The title is taken from an Elvis Costello song that is also about time and how decisions echo across generations.
It is the first significant critical prize for Egan, who has published three other novels and a collection of stories. The National Book Critics Circle is a membership organization of more than 600 book critics nationwide. The prizes were announced at the Tishman Auditorium of the New School.
In a surprise selection, the award for autobiography went to Darin Strauss for “Half a Life,” a memoir about his coming to terms with an auto accident he had as a teenager that caused the death of a bike-riding classmate. Strauss’ book, published by McSweeney’s, was heard in part on the radio show “This American Life.” The work was selected over rocker Patti Smith’s National Book Award-winning memoir, “Just Kids.”
The nonfiction award went to Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” published by Random House. While focusing on three individuals who left the Jim Crow South — one for New York, one for Chicago and one for Los Angeles — it tells the larger story of the massive African American migration of the 20th century. Barbara Demick, The Times’ Beijing Bureau chief, was a finalist in the category for her book “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.”
The award winner in biography was Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer,” published by Other Press. The book was cited for being a fresh and original treatment of the French essayist.
Poetry’s winner was “One With Others: [a little book of her days]” by C.D. Wright, published by Copper Canyon Press. In the book Wright, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, blends poetry and journalism to create a lyric portrait of the civil rights movement in Arkansas.
The award for criticism was given to “Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West” by Clare Cavanagh, published by Yale University Press, a scholarly study of 20th century poetry from behind the Iron Curtain.
Author William Gass presented the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to the Dalkey Archive Press in Champaign, Ill.