The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) is a nonprofit that consists of over 900 book reviewers who are actively writing. Each year a 24-member Board grants an award to the best book in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—and honors two accomplished reviewers from within its membership. Announced on March 12, 2009 at a ceremony held at the New School in New York, and covering books published in 2008, this year none of the NBCC Awards Winners are women.Now let's put this in a bit of context. Thirteen of the Board members are women. Twelve out of the 34 finalists were women. Last year's winners were not only half women, but the winners were also ethnically diverse. So why did women lose out this year?
One answer, according to Sarah Seltzer, may lie in feminist-oriented books getting the shaft (pun intended) by anti-feminist review writers; the authors are dismissed by critics because of their conflicting politics, which overlooks the integrity of the work itself. Anna Clark opines, "even the most talented women writers often aren't validated in the same way that their male counterparts are." Sometimes this lack of validation is simply because they are women writing in a sexist society; other times it is because they have actively chosen to operate outside of the traditional system. They're not after The Man Booker Prize (though they probably wouldn't turn it down); they're after validation from their intended audience, which may not shower them with such accolades.
Some sites have been created for women's voices to be heard--like Feminist Review (founded by yours truly)--while others can do a better job supporting women's creative expression. Here are my own 2008 Winners for the NBCC categories:
Autobiography: The Dancer from Khiva: One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom (Bibish)
Biography: Sex Variant Woman: The Life of Jeannette Howard Foster (Joanne Passet)
Criticism: The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (Susan Faludi)
Fiction: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)
Nonfiction: Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (Tristan Taormino)
Poetry: Humming the Blues: Inspired by Nin-me-šar-ra, Enheduanna's Song to Inanna (Cass Dalglish)
What are yours?