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The prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction was awarded to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, it was announced last month. Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon won for nonfiction; The Passage of Power, the fourth volume in Robert A. Caro’s study on Lyndon B. Johnson, won for biography; Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton took home the award for autobiography; Stranger Magic by Marina Warner for criticism; and D.A. Powell’s collection Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys won the poetry prize.
The only winners in attendance were Andrew Solomon and Ben Fountain. “I really wanted to write a book about love,” said Solomon upon accepting the award, thanking his editors at the publishing company Scribner. Far from the Tree, a gigantic tome of a work, examines how parents raise children very different from themselves—such as those who are deaf or autistic. Solomon has previously won the National Book Award for his work The Noonday Demon.
Strange Magic by Marina Warner examines the Arabian Nights and how studies of it have evolved over centuries.
Useless Landscape is D.A. Powell’s fifth book of poetry. It deals with topics ranging from Disneyland to the 1970s dance scene.
Caro’s long and intense study of Lyndon B. Johnson has already garnered numerous awards, with past volumes winning Pulitzers, a National Book Critics Circle Award and earlier National Book Awards. The Passage of Power focuses on Johnson’s vice-presidency and presidency up to 1964.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was previously a finalist for the National Book Award and is a likely candidate for the upcoming Pulitzer Prize. Taking place one Thanksgiving Day, the novel centers around eight soldiers and their tour through the Iraq war.
Past winners of the fiction award include John Updike and Jennifer Egan, and helped propel Toni Morrison and Jonathan Lethem to the forefront of literature. The award is unique among American book prizes in that finalists and winners do not have to be American citizens. Foreign writers such as W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolano have the award to thank for much of their popularity in America.
Not too long after that announcement, the winner of the 33rd PEN/Faulkner Award was also announced. Benjamin Alire Saenz won for his collections of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. The other finalists were Threats by Amelia Gray, Kind One by Laird Hunt, Hold it ‘Til it Hurts by T. Geronimo Johnson, and Watergate by Thomas Mallon.
Interestingly, all of the nominees were notably obscure, with none of them receiving nominations for other awards or appearing much in the media’s “Best Of” lists.
Past winners include Mao II by Don DeLillo, The Hours by Michael Cunningham and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. Notably, Philip Roth has won three PEN/Faulkner Awards for his novels Operation Shylock, The Human Stain and Everyman.
Finalists receive $5,000 and Mr. Saenz will take home $15,000. The award is to be presented officially on May 4 in Washington DC.
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