BOOKS | National Book Critics Circle showcases top authors in special Talk of the Stacks event


The final event of the season for Talk of the Stacks is also a presentation of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). This special presentation, NBCC Reads: A Literary Showcase, will take place on Wednesday, November 3 at 7 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library.  (Doors open at 6:15, and the event may fill up.)

NBCC Reads will include three authors who were recognized this year by the NBCC awards committee. Eula Biss won the NBCC award for criticism for No Man’s Land: American Essays; Stephen Burt was a finalist in the criticism category for Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry; and Marlon James was a finalist in the fiction category for The Book of Night Women (which also won a 2010 Minnesota Book Award). The event will be moderated by Jeffrey Shotts, senior editor at Graywolf Press (who edited the books by Biss and Burt). A discussion of literary criticism will be interspersed throughout the readings.

What brings NBCC to Minneapolis? Actually, it’s already here: in an e-mail, NBCC president Jane Ciabattari wrote that Minneapolis boasts “a solid concentration” of NBCC members, who will be taking part in and presenting the program. At the urging of Ciabattari, Graywolf Press director and publisher Fiona McCrae arranged the event.

“There’s a good concentration of National Book Critics Circle members in Minneapolis,” wrote Ciabattari, “so we’re pleased to be co-sponsoring the November 3 reading by Eula Biss, Stephen Burt, and Marlon James, three of our awards winners and finalists. This is one of many NBCC events being held around the US in coming months, from San Francisco to Kansas City to New York and Washington, D.C. It’s a great way to honor wonderful writing, and the range of voices at work today.”

Jeffrey Shotts of Graywolf Press echoed these sentiments in an e-mail. “It seems very fitting to have a NBCC event in the Twin Cities,” he wrote, “because of the vibrant literary community here, but also because we have a very lively critical community here with the college and university system, literary presses, magazines, and newspapers, library systems and bookstores, reading series, and other organizations that support conversation about books.

“After Jane contacted Fiona and Graywolf about collaborating on an NBCC event,” continued Shotts, “we immediately knew we wanted to feature recent winners and finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards. Eula Biss was a perfect choice, since her book Notes from No Man’s Land won the NBCC Award in criticism. Stephen Burt then seemed like a great author to include, since he is one of the major poetry critics in the country, and his wonderfully titled Close Calls with Nonsense was a finalist for the NBCC Award in criticism. Steve also taught at Macalester College for several years, before moving on to the English Department at Harvard, where he is currently teaching. Then we wanted to include a fiction writer, and Marlon James came to mind, not only because his recent book, The Book of Night Women, was a finalist for the NBCC Award in fiction, but because he is fast becoming a major, must-read novelist of our time. He currently teaches at Macalester College, and it’s fortunate that he is local and agreed to be a part of the event. So we have three very different writers, which I think will make the readings and conversation lively.”

When asked what the audience can expect, Shotts predicted, “I think it will be intriguing to hear from an essayist and cultural critic, a poet and poetry critic, and a fiction writer about various and divergent ways our culture talks about reading and writers’ works. We’re at a juncture, it seems, where on one hand, fewer and fewer magazines and newspapers are able to provide in-depth coverage of many books beyond the usual suspects, and on the other hand, there are vast arrays of conversations about books and writers online.

He continued to write, “What does that shift toward the virtual conversation mean for writers of nonfiction, poetry, and fiction? What does it mean for the way these writers consider their audiences? These are some of the questions I suspect will arise at the event, and I think these writers will have very different responses. It strikes me, then, that while the conversation will focus on book culture, these questions are crucial in terms of the way we more generally think about the place of art in our lives.”