Canadian-born author Rebecca Donner wins National Book Critics Circle Award for biography

Rebecca Donner's book, All The Frequent Troubles of Our Days, is about the author's great-great aunt Mildred Harnack-Fish, who gave her life to resisting Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is a biography by Rebecca Donner. (, Little, Brown & Company)

Vancouver-born writer Rebecca Donner has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography for her book, All The Frequent Troubles of Our Days.

The U.S. prizes are awarded annually in six categories — autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The finalists and winners are selected by committees of book critics. 

Donner's All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is about the author's great-great aunt Mildred Harnack-Fish, an American woman who gave her life to resisting Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

LISTEN | Rebecca Donner on The Current:

American Mildred Harnack-Fish was a key resistance figure in Nazi Germany — she fed secrets to the allies, and was ultimately killed on Adolf Hitler's direct orders. Her Canadian-born great-great niece Rebecca Donner tells the story in her new book, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days.

While teaching at the University of Berlin and pursuing their PhDs in the 1930s, Mildred and her husband Arvid organized resistance efforts at great risk to their lives, distributing leaflets that denounced Hitler and finding channels to slip information out of the country. Both were eventually arrested and sentenced to death in the 1940s.

On Twitter, Donner said she was "elated, humbled and tremendously grateful" to receive the award. She previously won the 2022 PEN /Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and is a finalist for the L.A. Times Prize.

The National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction was won by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers for the novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. The book follows the coming-of-age of Ailey Pearl Garfield, as she unearths two centuries' worth of family history in the rural American South. Ailey discovers the stories of generations of women before her, carrying the words of scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois along the way.

Fanonne Jeffers is also a poet, essayist and professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is her first novel.

The John Leonard Prize, given annually to the year's best first book in any genre, was awarded posthumously to Anthony Veasna So for Afterparties. The short fiction collection tells stories from the lives of Cambodian Americans, the children of refugees of the Cambodian genocide, as they grow up in California bearing the weight of their family's trauma. 

Veasna So, a Cambodian American writer who was born and raised in California, died in 2020 at the age of 28. Afterparties, published after his death, was named a best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, the L.A. Times, The Washington Post, and several other American publications.

Percival Everett receives lifetime achievement honours

The Trees is Percival Everett's 22nd novel. (Ulf Andersen, Graywolf Press)

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Percival Everett, in honour of the American writer's contributions to book culture. The 65-year-old author has written 22 novels, including Erasure, the story of an acclaimed Black writer's frustration with publishing and accidental bestseller, Telephone, a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist about a "geologist-slash-paleobiologist" who answers a mysterious note in the face of his daughter's sudden decline, and The Treesa detective novel that explores the horrific history of lynching in the U.S. 

Everett was born in Georgia in 1956 and grew up in Columbia, S.C. In addition to writing more than 30 books, he's also an accomplished visual artist and worked for 12 years training horses and mules. He's a professor of English at the University of Southern California.

LISTEN | Percival Everett on Writers & Company:

In 1955, the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi brought nationwide attention to racial violence and injustice. The perpetrators were never punished. But in Percival Everett’s powerful new novel, The Trees, that history comes back to haunt Money’s white townsfolk, in a wave of retribution for the brutal legacy of lynching in the American South.

Here are all the National Book Critics Circle Award winners:

  • Autobiography: Gay Bar: Why We Went Out by Jeremy Atherton Lin
  • Biography: All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner
  • Criticism: Girlhood by Melissa Febos
  • Fiction: The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  • Nonfiction: How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
  • Poetry: frank: sonnets by Diane Seuss
  • John Leonard Prize: Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
  • Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Merve Emre
  • Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Percival Everett
  • Toni Morrison Achievement Award: Cave Canem Foundation

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