While NBCC Board member Rebecca Skloot liveblogged the awards, Ron and I sat through a somewhat speedy ceremony emceed by president John Freeman and highlighted by Mary Gordon‘s glowing retrospective and tribute (accompanied by retro Jill Krementz photography) to Sandrof winner John Leonard, followed by Leonard’s own words, a speech so filled with mirth, self-deprecation and reflections on present and past reviewing that I hope the transcript is made publicly available at some point. Nona Balakian winner Steven G. Kellman was a quote-a-minute, namechecking the gamut from H.L. Mencken (who had unkind words about criticism and even more scathing words about poetry – partly because of a volume he himself had written and then done everything in his power to squelch) to Lily Tomlin (“we’re all in this together – alone,” as applied to book critics, who Kellman quipped “are the only critics who can do their job in their underwear.”)
Criticism: Lawrence Weschler, EVERYTHING THAT RISES: A BOOK OF CONVERGENCES (McSweeney’s)
Poetry: Troy Jollimore, TOM THOMSON IN PURGATORY (Margie/Intuit House)
Non-Fiction: Simon Schama, ROUGH CROSSINGS: BRITAIN, SLAVES AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (Ecco)
Biography: Julie Phillips, JAMES TIPTREE, JR.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE B. SHELDON (St. Martin’s Press)
Autobiography: Daniel Mendelsohn, THE LOST (HarperCollins)
Fiction: Kiran Desai, THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS (Atlantic Monthly Press)
It’s an award winner list of some surprise – Jollimore’s win especially surprised the poetry faithful in the audience – and some that might have seemed like a surprise, like Desai, but on further reflection are just about right. Ron’s got more about notable quotes and the afterparty, but I’m especially happy to have chatted with John Leonard about his new prize, his belief that literary blogs are “where the passion is” and finding good books to read that might be off most people’s radar. It doesn’t get much better than that.