Saturday, January 7, 2012

Background Information on the National Book Critics Circle Award

Two weeks from this evening (January 21st at 6:30pm) finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards (NBCC) will be announced.

I will be weighing in with predictions on the finalists closer to the announcement. For now, here is some background for those who may not know details about the award.

The National Book Critics Circle gives out awards in fiction, non-fiction, memoir, biography, poetry, and criticism. The fiction award is one of the four most prestigious literature awards given in the United States each year. The others are the the National Book Award (for fiction), the PEN/Faulkner Award, and probably the most "prestigious," the Pulitzer Prize (for fiction). (There are many smaller awards which are meaningful, but these are the “big ones.”)

Yet, the NBCC is unique from the other three awards for two reasons: 1) finalists do not need to be residents of the United States, and 2) books in translation are eligible. In recent years, there has normally been one book from each category (and in some years both categories) nominated. Still, from my count, there has never been three, indicating that the nominating body wants to reserve a majority of the nominations (at least three of five) for books written in English, by American authors. 

The most interesting attribute of the NBCC in fiction is that simply being nominated is the single best predictor of the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. In 23 of the last 33 years, the eventual Pulitzer winner was first nominated for the NBCC. The committees which choose the two awards are completely separate, so it's unclear why this relationship is so strong, but it is.

The Pulitzer is not announced until April, and I plan a few other posts prior to the announcement. (Unlike the other major awards, which first name nominees, and then a few weeks later name the winner, the Pulitzer only names a winner.) I will share other interesting factors which can be used to predict the Pulitzer, but none are as good as being a NBCC finalist. So, when we learn the NBCC finalists, keep in mind that we might have a very good idea of what book will win Pulitzer in April.

Stay tuned for my predictions of the finalists.

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