The National Book Critics Circle Awards for 2020 were announced late last week, with awards for literature published in the U.S. in six categories (criticism, fiction, nonfiction, autobiography, biography and poetry) as well as three annual prizes. The winners in the main categories included two Rutgers University professors.
Nicole Fleetwood, a professor of American studies and art history in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick won in the criticism category for “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” and poet Cathy Park Hong, a professor in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Rutgers-Newark won in the autobiography category for her memoir, “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning.”
Fleetwood’s book, based on interviews with incarcerated people and their families, prison staff, activists and other observers, explores the importance of people in prison creating art as a means to survive incarceration. In her acceptance speech given during a virtual ceremony on March 25, Fleetwood talked about her cousins who had been incarcerated and had shared their stories and experiences with her. “There has never been a time in my life when prison didn’t hover as a real and present threat over us,” she wrote in “Marking Time.” Justin Rosier, chair of the criticism committee, described her book as “a blistering critique of the penal system and ultimately a testament to human flourishing in spite of it.’’
Hong said she started writing her memoir when she was pregnant because she wanted a better world for her daughter. “Minor Feelings,” an account of Hong’s experience as an Asian American, interweaves personal experience with broader cultural criticism. Marion Winik, the autobiography committee chair, said, “This courageous, unblinking, innovative, gorgeous and furious book invites readers to begin to understand the experiences of the completely non-homogenous group of people lumped together as Asian Americans, as well as the singular experience of the author, who is Korean American, the daughter of immigrants, and for whom English is a second language.”