A debut story collection by Anthony Veasna So, a promising writer who died before his book was published, is among this year's nominees for National Book Critics Circle awards.
So’s collection “Afterparties” was inspired, amongst other things, by his upbringing in a Cambodian-American family and features stories about intergenerational trauma caused by the Khmer Rouge.
The collection, which sold at auction for $300,000, was recommended by Vanity Fair and the Wall Street Journal as well as featuring in Roxanne Gaye’s monthly book club.
Tragically however, So (pictured below) died aged 28 of an overdose before he could see his work in print. His death rocked the literature industry and Asian-American writers who had been looking forward to reading his debut book.
Joining So on the list of nominees are Colson Whitehead's "Harlem Shuffle," Honorée Fanonne Jeffers' "The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois," and Torrey Peters' acclaimed first novel "Detransition, Baby".
The NBCC announced five finalists in each of six competitive categories of fiction, biography, criticism, nonfiction, autobiography and poetry. There are also six nominees in a separate category for best first novel.
Biographies, autobiographies and non-fiction
Mark Harris' biography of Mike Nichols features in the biography category along with Susan Bernofsky's "Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser," Keisha N. Blain's "Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America," Rebecca Donner's "All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler" and Alexander Nemerov's "Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York."
Rebecca Solnit's "Orwell's Roses," in which she connects Orwell's worldview to his joy in gardening and other domestic activities is joined in nonfiction by Patrick Radden Keefe's "Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty," Joshua Prager's "The Family Roe: An American Story, Sam Quinones' "The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth" and Clint Smith's "How the Word Is Passed."
Meanwhile self-penned nominees for autobiography include Hanif Abdurraqib's "A Little Devil in America: Notes In Praise Of Black Performance", Jeremy Atherton Lin's "Gay Bar: Why We Went Out," Rodrigo Garcia's "A Farewell To Gabo And Mercedes: A Son's Memoir," Doireann Ní Ghríofa's "A Ghost In the Throat" and Albert Samaha's "Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes."
Melissa Febos' "Girlhood" and Jenny Diski's "Why Didn't You Do What You Were Told?" were among the criticism finalists, which also included Jesse McCarthy's "Who Will Pay Reparations On My Soul?", Mark McGurl's "Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon" and Amia Srinivasan's "The Right To Sex."
Fiction and poetry
In fiction, nominees besides Whitehead and Jeffers were British author Rachel Cusk's "Second Place," Joshua Cohen's "The Netanyahus" and Sarah Hall's "Burntcoat."
B.K. Fischer's "Ceive" was a poetry finalist, along with Donika Kelly's "The Renunciations," Rajiv Mohabir's "Cutlish," Cheswayo Mphanza's "The Rhinehart Frames" and Diane Seuss' "frank: sonnets."
Peters' "Detransition, Baby" and So's "Afterparties" were nominees for the John Leonard Prize, awarded for best debut fiction. Others in the category included Ashley C. Ford's "Somebody's Daughter," Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's "My Monticello," Larissa Pham's "Pop Song" and Devon Walker-Figueroa's "Philomath."
The NBCC was founded in 1974 and includes hundreds of critics and review editors from around the country.
The organisation also awarded three honorary prizes: Author-critic Merve Emre was cited for excellence in reviewing, novelist Percival Everett for having "a transformative impact upon book culture" and Cave Canem, recipient of the NBCC's inaugural Toni Morrison Award, for its "lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture."
Cave Canem is a New York City based organisation that helps develop and promote Black poets. It received an honorary National Book Award in 2016.