- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout,” a blunt and satirical novel on race and class, has won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.

“The Sellout” is set in part in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens, California, where residents include the last of the surviving Little Rascals and the book’s narrator, known to friends as Bonbon, whose quest to make slavery and segregation legal again brings him to the Supreme Court. The book has been likened to the comedy of Richard Pryor and Chris Rock and admirers include not just critics, but Sarah Silverman, who on a blurb for “The Sellout” called it “Amazing. Like demented angels wrote it.”

Also Thursday, Margo Jefferson’s “Negroland” was cited for autobiography and Charlotte Gordon’s “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley” for biography. Other winners announced Thursday were Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts” for criticism, Sam Quinones’ “Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic” and Ross Gay’s “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” for poetry.

The critics circle honored both emerging writers and established writers. Wendell Berry, the poet, essayist and environmentalist, was given a lifetime achievement prize. Kirstin Valdez Quade’s “Night at the Fiestas” received the John Leonard Prize for a debut book.

Finalists included such notable works as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” winner last fall of the National Book Award; Mary Beard’s best-selling “SPQR: A History of Rome” and Lauren Groff’s novel “Fates and Furies,” a National Book Award nominee that President Barack Obama has called his favorite work of 2015.

Only one cash prize, for $1,000, was presented Thursday, fittingly for a work of criticism: The NBCC awarded its Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing to Carlos Lozada, associate editor and nonfiction book critic at The Washington Post.

The critics circle, founded in 1974, has around 700 members nationwide.

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