NEW YORK | Small presses shared the honors with big-name publishers in the annual awards program of the nation’s book critics on Thursday, a sign that literary activity remains not only breathing but lively in the current transformational environment.
Awards in three of six literary categories, handed out Thursday night by the National Book Critics Circle, went to authors published by smaller presses. The fiction prize, for example, went to “Binocular Vision,” a short story collection by Edith Pearlman, which was the debut publication of Lookout Books, the book publishing arm of the creative writing department at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
Pearlman’s collection, competing against four novels, makes the case that she is one of the finest short-fiction writers of the day, the judges said.
In accepting the award, Pearlman thanked the many small literary magazines and presses that have published her over the years, citing them as places that keep literary culture alive.
The non-cash awards, the only national book prizes determined by critics, were delivered in a ceremony at the New School. It was the organization’s 37th annual prize presentation.
Poetry and criticism prizes also went to books published by small presses. Laura Kasischke’s poetry collection, “Space, In Chains,” published by Copper Canyon Press, won the poetry award. In the book, Kasischke reflects on her ailing parents, an astounding work about “the life force,” the judges noted.
In criticism, the wide-ranging British writer Geoff Dyer was cited for his essay collection “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition,” published by Graywolf Press of Minnesota.
• Autobiography: “The Memory Palace,” a memoir by Mira Bartók (Free Press), about a daughter’s search for her mentally disabled mother.
• Biography: “George F. Kennan; An American Life,” by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin Press), a sweeping account of the life of a 20th-century statesman.
• Nonfiction: “Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War,” by Maya Jasanoff (Knopf). You don’t expect to win awards, the author said, “when you write a book about losers.”
The critics gave a lifetime achievement award to Robert Silvers, a founding editor of The New York Review of Books, a venerable, intellectually engaged periodical which was founded during a New York newspaper strike in 1963. And free-lance critic and author Kathryn Schulz won the organization’s annual Nona Balakian Citation, the equivalent of critic of the year.