Alumna Rebecca Donner '01 Wins National Book Critics Circle Award

BY Rebecca Pinwei Tseng, March 18, 2022

The National Book Critics Circle has announced the recipients of their 2021 Awards. Alumna Rebecca Donner ‘01 was awarded first place in the biography category for All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little Brown and Co, 2021). The book follows the life of Donner's great-great aunt, Mildred Harnack, who led an anti-Hitler resistance movement and worked as a spy during World War II. After receiving the award, Donner said she felt "elated, humbled, and tremendously grateful." 


Also on the list of 2021 winners is Girlhood (Bloomsbury, 2021) by Melissa Febos. The book, which placed first in the criticism category, was illustrated by alumna Forsyth Harmon '13 ('01 CC). 


Congratulations to all the winners! 


Original: January 26, 2022 - Alumni and Professors Named National Book Critics Circle Awards Finalists


The National Book Critics Circle recently announced a list of 30 finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards. On the list are the works of four Columbia alumni and professors, Associate Professor of Writing and Director of Literary Translation at Columbia Susan Bernofsky, Assistant Professor and alumna BK Fischer ‘97, former Associate Professor Joshua Cohen, and alumna Rebecca Donner ‘01.


Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) is among the most prestigious in American letters, with judges for the annual prizes who are among the most influential critics and book review editors of the day. Under the NBCC, a group of 600 working critics select and honor the best books of the year in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. A 24-member board of directors then nominates and selects the list of 30 finalists for the awards.


Bernofsky made the finalist list for her biography, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser (Yale University Press, 2021). The book follows the life of Walser, a Swiss-German modernist author whose work has been previously translated from the German by Bernofsky. Clairvoyant of the Small is the first English-language biography of Walser.


Bernofsky translations include eight works of fiction by Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Uljana Wolf, and others. A Guggenheim fellow and former chair of the PEN Translation Committee, she blogs about translation at and co-edited (with Esther Allen) the Columbia University Press anthology In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means.


Donner was also selected as a finalist in the biography category for her book, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little Brown and Co, 2021). The biography follows the life and work of Donner's great-great aunt, Mildred Harnack. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Harnack enrolled in a PhD program in Germany right as the Nazi party began to take root. Harnack, in her 20s in 1932, led secret resistance meetings in her apartment, wrote and distributed anti-Hitler leaflets, and helped Jews flee the country. When World War II began, Harnack risked her life as a spy for the Allies.


Donner's essays, reportage, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Bookforum, Guernica, and The Believer. She is also the author of a novel, Sunset Terrace (MacAdam/Cage Publishing 2003) and a graphic novel about ecoterrorism, Burnout (Minx, 2008). She was a 2018-2019 fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, Ucross Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. Born in Vancouver, Donner is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, and has taught writing at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College.


Fischer made the finalist list for her poetry collection, Ceive (BOA, 2021). Ceive is a poetic retelling of Noah's Ark set in a post-apocalyptic future. When Val is found in the wreckage of her flooding home by a former UPS delivery man, the two flee the Eastern Seaboard and join a group of pilgrims seeking refuge from the catastrophic collapse of a civilization destroyed by gun violence, the climate crisis, and social unrest.


Fischer is also the author of poetry collections Radioapocrypha (Mad Creek, Ohio State UP, 2018), My Lover’s Discourse (Tinderbox Editions, 2018), St. Rage's Vault (The Word Words, 2013), and Mutiny Gallery (Truman State UP, 2011). She is also the author of a critical study, Museum Mediations: Reframing Ekphrasis in Contemporary American Poetry (Routledge, 2006). Her poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Nation, Kenyon Review, Jacket2, Boston Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, FIELD, Literary Mama, WSQ, Modern Language Studies, Ninth Letter, and other journals. She lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York, with her family.


Cohen was named a fiction finalist for his novel, The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family (New York Review Books, 2021). The Netanyahus takes place at a college in not quite upstate New York. It’s winter of 1959 and Ruben Blum, a Jewish historian, is co-opted onto the hiring committee to review the application of an exiled Israeli scholar specializing in the Spanish Inquisition. When Benzion Netanyahu shows up for the interview, his family unexpectedly in tow, Blum plays the reluctant host to guests who proceed to lay waste to his American complacencies.


An accomplished and prolific writer across multiple genres, Cohen has published numerous novels, short fiction collections, and a nonfiction collection. In 2015, he collaborated with Useless Press on PCKWCK, the world's first live-written online novel. In 2017, he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists.


The 2021 winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award will be presented on March 17, 2022 in a public virtual ceremony.