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So-Called Small Presses Dominate the N.B.C.C. Awards!

On Thursday, March 10, 2011, the National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of its book awards for publishing year 2010. And it proved to be a banner year for small and independent presses. Four out of the six winning books were published by independent presses.

The winner in biography was Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, published by Other Press, edged out books published by Random House, W.W. Norton, Knopf, and Doubleday.

Though C. D. Wright’s One with Others: [a little book of her days] (Copper Canyon), displaced three books put out by other small or independent presses, namely, New Directions and Princeton University Press, it also defeated books from Penguin Poets and Grove Press.

Though Clare Cavanagh’s Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West, published by Yale University Press, beat books by other small or independent presses, namely, Graywolf and University of Chicago Press, it also displaced books published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and HarperCollins.

Darin Strauss’s Half a Life (McSweeney’s) took the honors in Autobiography, beating out a book from another independent outlet: Feminist Press, but also books from Twelve, Scribner, and Ecco.

Fiction and Nonfiction were the only two genres that did not give an award to a small or independent press. I should note that none of the finalists from either of these categories were published by small or independent presses.

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award went to one of my favorite presses: Dalkey Archive Press. Founder and publisher John O’Brien was introduced by Magister William H. Gass, who delivered what was easily the night’s best speech.

  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

6 thoughts on “So-Called Small Presses Dominate the N.B.C.C. Awards!

  1. Not to quibble too much, but aren’t small presses so-called because they are, in fact, small? I’ve never taken that as a pejorative term, myself. (What’s so great about being large?)

    Obviously, though, this is wonderful news. Thanks for reporting, John.

    1. Well, if we weren’t quibbling, then where would we be?

      Yes, the word “small” qualifying the abovementioned presses is, largely, accurate, in the sense that it merely denotes their size, especially in comparison to the megalodon publishing houses. I can’t ignore the connotations of the word “small,” however, that to call them small is to suggest that they are limited in degree, scope, importance, significance; that they are trivial; that they aren’t fully grown; that they are narrow in outlook; that they are diluted and weak; etc. These unfortunate attitudes and perceptions about small presses are perhaps the prevalent ones. I generally prefer to use “independent” as a descriptor of these presses, but where does that place the university presses, all of which I wouldn’t necessarily call independent?

      1. ^_^

        I don’t really think “small” sounds bad. If anything, “large” is the pejorative these days. It’s hip now to be limited-growth, local, sustainable, etc. Small presses should cash in!

  2. NBCC will also honor small presses, and support the critics who review their books and the editors who publish their reviews, at the upcoming “NBCC Celebrates Small Press Month” panel on March 30, 6 pm, at the NYU Bookstore, 726 Broadway, NYC.

    Moderated by NBCC board member Barbara Hoffert (Library Journal’s “Prepub Alert” Editor), the panel will discuss the challenges and successes of critics who are maintaining a public dialogue about the small press in an era of declining newspaper coverage and increasing online interest. Panelists include:

    – John Reed (NBCC board member, novelist, critic, Book Review Editor of The Brooklyn Rail)

    – John Deming (poet, critic, Editor of Cold Front Magazine)

    – Yours truly, Tim W. Brown (novelist, critic, former board member of the Small Press Center)

    – None other than: John Madera! (critic, Editor of Big Other and The Chapbook Review)

    More info is available at http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/nbcc_celebrates_small_press_month_march_30_at_nyu_bookstore

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