Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, the Complex Hagiography of Joan Didion, and More

by Staff

Every day Poets & Writers Magazine scans the headlines—publishing reports, literary dispatches, academic announcements, and more—for all the news that creative writers need to know. Here are today’s stories.

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) has announced the finalists for its 2021 awards. The annual awards honor books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, autobiography, and biography published in the previous year. Six additional finalists were named for the John Leonard Prize, which celebrates a best debut in any genre. NBCC also announced that it will bestow its inaugural Toni Morrison Award, given “to honor institutions that have made lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture,” on the Cave Canem Foundation. The awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony on March 17.

“Didion’s voice exudes a uniquely distanced sort of intimacy, messaging ‘come close’ in one sentence and then ‘stay away’ in the next.” Daphne Merkin reckons with the “split selves” of Joan Didion and the contradictions and complications in her legacy. (New York Times Book Review)

Do you think a woman can create a great body of work and raise a family at the same time? Yes. She can do anything. The real question should be this: Can the community—the fathers, the family, our villages—rally and accommodate the mother, so that she can create her great body of work?” Memoirist Mira Ptacin meditates on Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Bergman Island and its lessons for mother-artists. (Literary Hub)

Ariel Saramandi celebrates twelve Mauritian women writers who deserve a wider readership. “These women didn’t just carve out a space for themselves in a deeply patriarchal island: they cut into the heart of the country with their hard, coruscating brilliance.” (Electric Literature)

You Don’t Know Us Negroes reveals Hurston at the top of her game as an essayist, cultural critic, anthropologist and beat reporter.” Lisa Page considers a new volume of Zora Neale Hurston’s essays, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West, and the portrait it offers of Hurston as an “American iconoclast.” (Washington Post)

Celeste Ng previews her newest novel, to be released in October by Penguin Press. “To me, Our Missing Hearts is about keeping a sense of shared humanity alive in dark, cynical, and isolating times.” (Entertainment Weekly)

Kyle Chayka ponders the pleasures of Wordle, the code-cracking word puzzle that has taken the internet by storm. “The English language is its own kind of game, with tricks and rules that we have long since memorized. After childhood, we rarely have to think about how a single letter change can cause a vast difference in a word’s meaning, or about just how many possibilities exist within five letters. Games like Wordle bring back a little bit of the wonder.” (New Yorker)