Colson Whitehead, Ronan Farrow among National Book Critics Circle nominees

Finalists for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle have been announced across six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
Colson Whitehead (left) and Ronan Farrow are among the 2019 National Book Critics Circle finalists. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images, Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow are among the books nominated for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Awards.

The American literary prize annually recognizes books across several categories, including autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

The judges are 24 professional book reviewers and critics that make up the National Book Critics Circle board.

The National Book Critics Circle also announced that poet and playwright Naomi Shihab Nye is the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement, while Sarah M. Broom is to be awarded the John Leonard Award for Best First Book for her memoir The Yellow House.

Winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards will be announced on March 12, 2020 in New York.


Whitehead is a finalist in the fiction category. His 1960s-set novel The Nickel Boys follows a young black boy named Elwood Curtis who is sent to juvenile reform school after an innocent mistake. The book is based on a real academy in Florida where generations of students were subject to physical and sexual abuse.

Valeria Luiselli is also a finalist in the fiction category. Her novel Lost Children Archive takes place over the span of a family road trip that grows increasingly tense as news of an "immigration crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border breaks over the radio.

In 2015, Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli began volunteering as an interpreter for young Central American asylum-seekers facing deportation. She speaks with Gillian Findlay about the conditions children are fleeing, their dangerous journey across Mexico, and what happens once they enter the American justice system. 21:58

The full fiction shortlist:


New Yorker journalist Farrow is among the autobiography nominees for Catch and Kill, an account of his investigation into disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. Farrow's reporting earned him the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Laura Cumming is a finalist in the autobiography category for Five Days Gone. A blend of memoir, social history and visual art, the book attempts to uncover a decades-spanning family mystery surrounding the five-day disappearance of Cumming's mother in 1929.

Cumming spoke to Eleanor Wachtel about her latest book, Five Days Gone, an investigation into her mother's disappearance as a child in 1929. 52:07

The full autobiography shortlist:


Lydia Davis is a criticism nominee for Essays One, a collection of the renowned short story writer's lectures, essays and commentaries from the past 20 years. 

She's joined by music critic Hanif Abdurraqib who is nominated for Go Ahead in the RainThe book digs into the history and legacy of the 1990s rap group A Tribe Called Quest.

The full criticism shortlist:

  • Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib
  • Essays One by Lydia Davis
  • Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman
  • Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, 100 Art Writings 1988-2018 by Peter Schjeldahl
  • Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin


American poet Ilya Kaminsky is a nominee for Deaf Republic. A finalist for several other major prizes, the book tells the story of the murder of a young deaf boy by soldiers and a community's silent, powerful dissent in the aftermath.

Morgan Parker is a poetry finalist for Magical Negro. The book explores the every day experiences of black women in America, celebrating triumphs and exposing patterns of systemic discrimination.

Author and poet Morgan Parker joined Tom Power in the q studio to talk about her two most recent books, a YA novel called Who Put This Song On? and a poetry collection called Magical Negro. 17:57

The full poetry shortlist:

  • The Tradition by Jericho Brown
  • Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
  • Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
  • Dunce by Mary Ruefle
  • Doomstead Days by Brian Teare


Journalist Patrick Radden Keefe's, Say Nothingis among the nonfiction finalists. The book tells the story of the 1972 murder of Belfast woman Jean McConville, a widow and mother of 10 who was dragged from her home by IRA militants and found dead 30 years later. McConville's death would echo in Northern Ireland for decades.

The full nonfiction shortlist:


British journalist Sonia Purnell is a finalist in the biography category for A Woman of No Importance. The book shares the extraordinary story of Baltimore socialite and spy Virginia Hall, who established covert networks across France and was described as "the most dangerous of all Allied spies" by the Gestapo during the Second World War.

The full biography shortlist:

  • Gods of the Upper Air: How A Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century by Charles King
  • The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth by Josh Levin
  • L.E.L.: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated "Female Byron" by Lucasta Miller
  • Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell


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