More than half of this year’s National Book Critics Circle finalists are women

Eartha Kitt reading

This morning, the National Book Critics Circle named the finalists for their annual awards for excellence in six literary categories (autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) for the publishing year of 2013. This year’s list includes a healthy gender balance. Twenty women are finalists, and Katherine A. Powers was named the winner for the excellence in reviewing award.

If you recall, the organization VIDA tracks the magazine and publishing industries’ effort (or lack thereof) in representing women reviewers and writers. It remains to be seen how 2013 year will shake out for women writers until VIDA’s annual report is released in the coming weeks. However, national literary awards like NBCC are critical in acknowledging the value and contributions of women writers. Last fall, the National Book Awards honored five emerging women writers.

There are some great books named in this finalist queue that I highly recommend you get into, if you haven’t picked them up already. 

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 12.52.20 PMMen We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

National Book Award Winner Jessmyn Ward writes a devastatingly honest and human portrait of the death of five men from her hometown. This intimate volume illustrates how poverty and racism, things we intellectualize and quantify, is fully lived through these black and brown bodies in rural Mississippi. Ward’s prose is eloquent, heartbreaking, elegiac yet does not over-sentimentalize these stories. Ward has said of the writing of this book that she wanted to “write the best story she can.” And she does. This is one of the most important books you’ll read this year.

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 12.57.03 PMWhite Girls by Hilton Als

The kind of criticism that emerges in this volume is nothing short of exquisite. Als brilliantly and fluidly explores culture and identity in the negative space where gender, sexuality and race intersect. It’s criticism and memoir and it’s so fucking good. His profiles on Leon Talley, Richard Pryor, Truman Capote are incredible. White Girls feels novelistic in places and just so delicious in its interrogation of how our culture wars move in our lives and our bodies. You must read this book.

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 12.58.46 PMAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie’s Ifemelu navigates the treacherous terrain of double consciousness in Americanah. Through the lives Ifemelu and Obinze, we get to feel our way through the African immigrant experience, one where we observe how American (western) social order and strictures around race affect West African immigrants, split between multiple worlds, loyalties and the struggle to embrace home. Adichie is smart, human, and honest in chronicling the intercontinental lives of Nigerians, the kinds of demands and strains it places on them, and things American-born (black or white) miss in these stories. There’s a shout-out to our friends at Postbourgie as well.

I’d also note that George Packer’s The Unwinding is amazing, exhaustive, and depressing, but also worthy of the read. Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby is in my queue for next. What other books are you reading for 2014?

(Eartha Kitt image via)

sm-bioSyreeta McFadden is a writer in Brooklyn and believes you should shop indie.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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