Among the 30 finalists announced this month for 2014 book awards by the National Book Critics Circle are several with Florida connections. As a member of the NBCC's board, I was part of the selection process, a daylong meeting that winnows down a year's worth of reading by the 24 board members to five books in each of six categories. We'll choose the winners and announce them at a ceremony in New York City on March 13.
In the poetry category, one of the finalists is Denise Duhamel, for her collection Blowout. Duhamel is an associate professor of English at Florida International University in Miami, the author of several poetry collections and the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013. The poems in Blowout form a mordantly funny narrative about the disintegration of a marriage and the birth of a new relationship.
Two books in the nonfiction category draw some of their subject matter from Florida. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer's account of the effects of the recession, includes a look at the housing crash in the Tampa Bay area. Many of the events recounted in Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief take place in Clearwater, where the Church of Scientology is headquartered. Another finalist in the nonfiction category is a former Tampa Bay Times staffer, David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service, which chronicles the difficulties of returning Iraq War veterans.
The NBCC announced the winners of three of its 2014 awards. The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award is Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, a Texas novelist, essayist and poet. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing was given to freelance writer Katherine A. Powers. A new award, the John Leonard Prize for best first book, selected by the entire NBCC membership, went to Anthony Marra for his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.
A list of all book award finalists follows. For more information, go to bookcritics.org.
Autobiography: Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave; Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives; Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby; Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped; Amy Wilentz, Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti.
Biography: Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East; Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World; John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven; Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore; Mark Thompson, Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis.
Criticism: Hilton Als, White Girls; Mary Beard, Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations; Jonathan Franzen, The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus; Janet Malcolm, Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers; Franco Moretti, Distant Reading.
Fiction: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah; Alice McDermott, Someone; Javier Marias, The Infatuations; Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being; Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch.
Nonfiction: Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice; Sherri Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital; David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service; George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America; Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.
Poetry: Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog; Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion; Denise Duhamel, Blowout; Bob Hicok, Elegy Owed; Carmen Gimenez Smith, Milk and Filth.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.