Souvankham Thammavongsa nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award for How to Pronounce Knife

The American awards recognize the best literature in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The winners will be announced on March 25, 2021.
Souvankham Thammavongsa is a 2020 finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. (Scotiabank Giller Prize, McClelland & Stewart)

Souvankham Thammavongsa is a finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Awards. Her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife is nominated in the fiction category.

The American awards recognize the best literature in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

The finalists for the John Leonard Prize for best first book were also announced.

How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of idiosyncratic and diverse stories that capture the daily lives of immigrants. From a young man painting nails in a salon, to a housewife learning English from soap-operas, the stories navigate tragedy and humour and explore the characters' hopes, disappointments, trauma and acts of defiance.

How to Pronounce Knife won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize. The $100,000 prize is the biggest prize in Canadian literature. 

Fun, ferocious moments at centre of Giller Prize-winning book

1 year ago
Duration 9:15
Giller Prize winner Souvankham Thammavongsa says she wanted to have fun again while writing and that her short story collection is 'built out' from her many years of writing poetry.   9:15

Thammavongsa is a writer from Toronto. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper'sGrantaThe Paris Review and NOON. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019's ClusterCBC Books named her a writer to watch in 2020.

Also nominated in the fiction category are British writer Martin Amis for Inside StoryAmerican author Randall Kenan for If I Had Two Wings, Irish writer Maggie O'Farrell for the novel Hamnet (published under the name Hamnet and Judith in Canada) and American writer Bryan Washington for Memorial.

Other notable nominees include Liberian American author Wayétu Moore for her memoir The Dragons, The Giant, The Women in the autobiography category, American journalist Isabel Wilkerson for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent in the nonfiction category and Scottish writer Douglas Stuart is nominated for the John Leonard Award for best first book for his novel Shuggie Bain, which also won the 2020 Booker Prize.

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

Thammavongsa was the only Canadian nominated this year.

The winners will be announced on March 25, 2021.

You can see the complete lists of finalists in each category below.



  • The Broken Heart of America: St, Louis and the Violent History of the United States by Walter Johnson
  • Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future by James Shapiro
  • She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire by Tom Zoellner


  • Obit by Victoria Chang 
  • Here Is The Sweet Hand by Francine J. Harris
  • Imperial Liquor by Amaud Jamaul Johnson 
  • The Shore by Chris Nealon
  • Homie by Danez Smith


  • Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
  • This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope by Shayla Lawson
  • Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer
  • The Dragons, The Giant, The Women by Wayétu Moore
  • Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Volz


  • Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley
  • The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter 
  • Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark
  • The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne
  • The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s by Maggie Doherty


  • Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Nicole Fleetwood
  • Stranger Faces by Namwali Serpell 
  • Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country by Cristina Rivera Garza
  • Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick
  • Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America by Wendy A. Woloson

John Leonard Prize

  • Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault
  • The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
  • Luster by Raven Leilani
  • A Burning by Megha Majumdar
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor 
  • How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

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