Women Scholars Dominate the National Book Critics Circle Awards

The National Book Critics Circle Awards, founded in 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel, are considered among the most prestigious in American letters. Comprising more than 600 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country, the NBCC annually bestows its awards in six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Biography, Autobiography, Poetry, and Criticism, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States.

Women won the National Book Critics Circle Award in four of the six categories.

(L to R) Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Rebecca Donner, Diane Seuss, and Melissa Febos

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a professor of English at the University of Oklahoma and author of five poetry collections, was the winner in the fiction category for her book The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper, 2021). The book is both a coming-of-age journey and a multi-generational saga. At the heart of the story is Ailey Pearl Garfield, a young Black woman from a family of multi-racial ancestors in rural Georgia. Professor Jeffers is a graduate of Talladega College in Alabama. She holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Alabama.

Rebecca Donner’s All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little, Brown & Company) won the award in the biography category. The book chronicles the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during WWII. Born in Canada, Donner was educated at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She has taught at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College.

The poetry prize was given to Diane Seussfrank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021). These poems tell the story of a life at risk of spilling over the edge of the page, from Seuss’s working-class childhood in rural Michigan to the dangerous allures of New York City and back again. A native of Indiana, Seuss is a graduate of Kalamazoo College. She earned a master of social work degree from Western Michigan Univerity. Seuss is the author of five books of poetry. She has taught at Kalamazoo College, Colorado College, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The criticism award went to Girlhood (Bloomsbury, 2021) by Melissa Febos. Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny. Since 2020, Febos has been an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the nonfiction writing program. Earlier, she taught for many years at the Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and directed the creative writing program at Monmouth University in New Jersey. Febos is a graduate of the New School and holds a master of fine arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College.

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