NEW YORK – Ling Ma's sharp and surreal “Bliss Montage” and Beverly Gage's sweeping biography of the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “G-Man,” were among the winners Thursday night of the National Book Critics Circle awards.
Ma's story collection won the prize for fiction, with the judges praising her “sometimes startling” portraits of racism and xenophobia, and her gift for pulling readers “into a world where everything has been called into question.” Last week, “Bliss Montage” received the Story Prize for outstanding short fiction.
Gage, whose book earlier in the day was honored by the New-York Historical Society, won Thursday night for best biography. “G-Man” has been widely praised as a thorough and nuanced take on one of the country's most polarizing figures, and was cited by the critics circle for weaving together Hoover's life and the “paradoxical national story involving American anxieties over security, masculinity, and race.”
Other works awarded by the NBCC included Isaac Butler's “The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act” for nonfiction, Hua Hsu's “Stay True" for memoir, Cynthia Cruz's “Hotel Oblivion” for poetry and Timothy Bewes' “Free Indirect” for criticism. Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov's “Grey Bees,” translated by Boris Dralyuk, won for best translated book, and Morgan Talty's “Night of the Living Rez” was named best debut work.
Honorary awards were presented to former U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo for lifetime achievement, and Jennifer Wilson for excellence in reviewing. The Toni Morrison Achievement Award, for “institutions that have made lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture,” was given to San Francisco's City Lights bookstore. Barbara Hoffert, an editor at Library Journal and former NBCC president and board member, received the critics circle's Service Award.
The NBCC was founded in 1974 and has hundreds of members around the country. Past winners of book critic prizes have included Alice Munro, Robert A. Caro, Isabel Wilkerson and the current U.S. poet laureate, Ada Limón.