National Book Critics Circle names Wendell Berry for lifetime achievement, finalists for other awards

Wendell Berry has written dozens of novels and collections of short stories, poetry and essays. 
The 81-year-old has called a 125-acre farm near Port Royal, Ky., home since 1965.
Wendell Berry has written dozens of novels and collections of short stories, poetry and essays. The 81-year-old has called a 125-acre farm near Port Royal, Ky., home since 1965.
Published Jan. 20, 2016

The National Book Critics Circle has named Wendell Berry the recipient of its 2016 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

Berry, 81, is an influential essayist, novelist and poet known for his environmental and social activism. The fifth-generation Kentucky native, who has lived on a 125-acre farm near Port Royal, Ky., since 1965, has published more than 40 books, including novels, short stories, poetry and essay collections.

Berry's work reflects his deep belief that literature should both grow from and respond to place. It also expresses his concerns over such issues as sustainable agriculture, small farms and environmentally damaging coal mining. His writing has influenced opinions on a wide range of subjects, from the Vietnam War to locavore cuisine.

Berry, whose previous honors include the National Humanities Medal and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, will be invited to receive the NBCC's honor at a ceremony in New York City on March 17.

At a meeting in New York on Jan. 16, the NBCC's 24-person board (of which I am a member) also chose this year's recipient of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Carlos Lozada, who is the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post.

The John Leonard Prize, for a first book by an author in any genre, is chosen by a vote open to all of the NBCC's more than 600 members. The prize for books published in 2015 goes to Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade, a collection of short stories set in New Mexico.

The NBCC board also selected finalists in six categories for its annual book awards. Among the finalists in the fiction category is Gainesville writer Lauren Groff, for her novel Fates and Furies.

The book award recipients will be announced at the ceremony in March.

Autobiography: The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander; The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick; Bettyville by George Hodgman; Negroland by Margo Jefferson; and H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

Biography: Fortune's Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth by Terry Alford; Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon; Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles; Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan; and Dietrich and Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives by Karin Wieland and Shelley Frisch.

Criticism: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Eternity's Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake by Leo Damrosch; The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson; On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín; and The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood.

Fiction: The Sellout by Paul Beatty; Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff; The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli; The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra; and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Nonfiction: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard; Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman; Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy; Dreamland: The True Story of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones; and What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing by Brian Seibert.

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Contact Colette Bancroft at or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.