Harvard, Yale Historians, Pearlman Tales Win Book Awards

John Lewis Gaddis
The book jacket of ``George F. Kennan: An American Life'' by John Lewis Gaddis, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The National Book Critics Circle gave its fiction award to Edith Pearlman for her story collection “Binocular Vision” (Lookout Books) Thursday night in Manhattan.

This was the first book published by Lookout, which is based at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Pearlman, born in 1936, published her debut collection of stories in 1996. Also a finalist this year for the National Book Award, she called the NBCC honor “a very sweet moment for me.”

Maya Jasanoff, a history professor at Harvard University, won the award for general nonfiction for “Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War” (Knopf). She opened her remarks by saying, “When you write a book about losers, you don’t really expect to get up and make a speech like this.”

The award for poetry went to Laura Kasischke for “Space, in Chains” (Copper Canyon Press). She thanked “my husband and son, who give me all my material, for better or worse.”

Geoff Dyer won in the criticism category for “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews” (Graywolf).

Mira Bartok won the award for autobiography for “The Memory Palace” (Free Press), while the biography award went to John Lewis Gaddis for “George F. Kennan: An American Life” (Penguin). A history professor at Yale University, Gaddis was a 2005 recipient of the National Humanities Medal. His son and stepdaughter accepted in his absence.

‘First Real Job’

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to Kathryn Schulz, for reviews appearing in the New York Times Book Review and the Boston Globe. Schulz noted that she heard the news of her win “about 72 hours after I accepted my first real job as a book critic” -- at New York magazine.

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award went to Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, who was introduced by a frequent contributor, Daniel Mendelsohn. He noted that Silvers once placed a trans-Atlantic call to him, while he was on a ship in the Aegean, to discuss changing a semicolon to a period.

Silvers traced his career back to the tiny Paris offices of the Paris Review and the first editing assignments given to him in 1954 by George Plimpton. He described an editor as “someone who dreams of bringing together the writers he admires and a group of readers who will appreciate them, and then stays out of the way.”

The National Book Critics Circle is an organization of about 600 book reviewers and editors. Founded in 1974, the group gave out its first awards the following year.

Nominees were chosen from books published in 2011 and winners were selected by the group’s 25-member board of directors, which includes Bloomberg book editor Laurie Muchnick.

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