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Meet three National Book Critics Circle Award winners

Cartoonist Roz Chast finds humor in caring for aging parents in her first graphic memoir, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” which won the autobiography prize at last night’s National Book Critics Circle Award.

For the first time in National Book Critics Circle Award history, a graphic novel won the prize for autobiography. New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast took home the award for “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” her bestselling memoir about caring for aging parents.

“This was probably the most personal thing I have ever done … I could have not written it until after they died,” Chast told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown in December. “I wanted to remember who they were. I wanted to remember all of it. I didn’t want to purge myself of it.”

In “Citizen: An American Lyric” Claudia Rankine writes prose poems about the small and large racial injustices that mark daily American life. Her collection was awarded the National Book Critics Circle prize for poetry, though it also received a nomination for the criticism prize.

This was also the first year in the history of the awards that one book was a finalist in two categories. “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine, a collection of prose poems that reflects on racism in daily American life, was a finalist for both a poetry and criticism award. Last night, Rankine’s book won the poetry prize.

“I see myself as a citizen, walking around, collecting stories, and using those stories to reflect our lives through poetry, through essays, creating these hybrid texts and plays that reflect back to us who we are,” Rankine told the NewsHour in December. “I wanted to try to track the moments that disrupt interactions, especially between people of different races.”

Also at last night’s ceremony, Marilynne Robinson took home the prize for fiction for “Lila,” her final installment in a trilogy that began with the Pulitzer Prize winning “Gilead.” Nona Willis Aronowitz accepted the criticism award for “The Essential Ellen Willis,” a collection of essays by rock critic Ellen Willis who died in 2006. Aronowitz is Willis’s daughter.

The biography prize was awarded to New Yorker drama critic John Lahr’s “Tenneesee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” and the nonfiction prize was awarded to David Brion Davis’ “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation,” which culminates both a trilogy and nearly 50 years of research.

Marine Corps veteran Phil Klay uses war stories to bridge the civilian-military gap in his first book, “Redeployment,” a collection of stories which was awarded this year’s National Book Critics Circle award’s John Leonard prize as well as the National Book Award for Fiction.

Toni Morrison and Phil Klay were also in attendance at the awards, receiving special honors which were announced the same day as the finalists back in January. Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison accepted a lifetime achievement award, remarking the publishing climate after her first novel, “The Bluest Eye.” Iraq war veteran Klay was awarded for the best debut book. His short story collection, “Redeployment,” was also awarded this year’s National Book Award for fiction.

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