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Two Boston-area authors among the finalists for National Book Critics Circle Award

Namwali Serpell (left) and Maggie Doherty.
Namwali Serpell (left) and Maggie Doherty.YANINA GOTSULSKY (left) and MAX LARKIN

Local authors were among the finalists announced by the National Book Critics Circle in a virtual event Sunday evening.

Maggie Doherty, a Harvard instructor, is a finalist in biography for her book “The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s,” which chronicles the lives and work of poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Mariana Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen, all of whom were early fellows at Radcliffe’s Institute for Independent Study. In her Globe review, critic Julia M. Klein said the book was an “elegantly composed account of this circle, with its camaraderie and occasional rivalries, [that] doubles as an affectionate — if not entirely uncritical — homage to the institute itself.”


The other local honoree is Namwali Serpell, a professor of English at Harvard, whose book “Stranger Faces” is a finalist in the criticism category. A Globe column described her book as “highly intellectual scholarship that casts a smart yet playful eye on pop culture as well as literary theory.”

The National Book Critics Circle Awards, founded in 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel and considered among the most prestigious in American letters, are the sole prizes bestowed by a jury of working critics and book review editors. The awards for publishing year 2020 will be presented on March 25 via Wildbound Live, in a virtual ceremony that is free and open to the public.

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award is the Feminist Press at the City University of New York. The recipient of the 2020 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing is Jo Livingstone.

Below is a full list of the 30 finalists in six categories — autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, general nonfiction, and poetry — for the best books of 2020.



Cathy Park Hong, “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” (One World)

Shayla Lawson, “This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope” (HarperPerennial)

Riva Lehrer, “Golem Girl” (One World)

Wayétu Moore, “The Dragons, The Giant, The Women” (Graywolf)

Alia Volz, “Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco” (HMH)


Amy Stanley, “Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World” (Scribner)

Zachary D. Carter, “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes” (Random House)

Heather Clark, “Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath” (Knopf)

Les Payne, Tamara Payne, “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” (Liveright)

Maggie Doherty, “The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s” (Knopf)


Nicole Fleetwood, “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” (Harvard Univ. Press)

Namwali Serpell, “Stranger Faces” (Transit)

Cristina Rivera Garza, “Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country” (Feminist Press)

Vivian Gornick, “Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Wendy A. Woloson, “Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America” (Univ. of Chicago Press)


Martin Amis, “Inside Story” (Knopf)

Randall Kenan, “If I Had Two Wings” (W.W. Norton)

Maggie O’Farrell, “Hamnet” (Knopf)


Souvankham Thammavongsa, “How to Pronounce Knife” (Little, Brown)

Bryan Washington, “Memorial” (Riverhead)


Walter Johnson, “The Broken Heart of America: St, Louis and the Violent History of the United States” (Basic)

James Shapiro, “Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future” (Penguin Press)

Sarah Smarsh, “She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs” (Scribner)

Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” (Random House)

Tom Zoellner, “Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire” (Harvard Univ. Press)


Victoria Chang, “Obit” (Copper Canyon)

Francine J. Harris, “Here Is The Sweet Hand” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Amaud Jamaul Johnson, “Imperial Liquor” (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press)

Chris Nealon, “The Shore” (Wave)

Danez Smith, “Homie” (Graywolf)