“Improvement,” Joan Silber’s novel about interconnected lives spanning from Turkey to New York’s Harlem, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
On a night when winners in all six competitive categories were women, Frances FitzGerald’s “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” was honored Thursday for nonfiction and Caroline Fraser’s book on Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Prairie Fires,” won for biography.
Silber has long been praised as a master of narrative, timing and capturing her characters’ inner lives. Her previous works include her acclaimed debut novel, “Household Words,” and the story collection “Ideas of Heaven.” FitzGerald, a celebrated journalist and author, is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning work on the Vietnam War, “Fire in the Lake,” and for “Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Her latest work was a National Book Award finalist last fall.
Others cited Thursday night included Layli Long Soldier in poetry for “Whereas,” Xiaolu Guo’s “Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China” for autobiography and Carina Chocano’s “You Play The Girl” for criticism.
National Book Critics Circle award finalists included two of last year’s most-talked about novels, Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and Mohsin Hamid’s best-selling “Exit West.”
The NBCC also presented a lifetime achievement award to prizewinning author-journalist John McPhee and cited author-critic Charles Finch for “excellence in reviewing.” Silber is among the authors Finch has praised. In a review last year in The Washington Post, he likened her to Alice Munro and Grace Paley, and lamented that she was “too little loved, too little mentioned, beyond a small readership that seems to be composed mostly of other writers.”
Carmen Maria Machado, author of the story collection “Her Body and Other Parties: Stories,” was given the John Leonard Prize for best debut book. Leonard, who died in 2008, was a founder of the National Book Critics Circle and had a long history of championing emerging writers.
The NBCC was founded in 1974 and is composed of more than 700 critics and editors.