Melissa Febos, associate professor in the Nonfiction Writing Program, was named winner of the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism for Girlhood, a collection of essays about the values that shape girls and the women they become.
The awards, presented each March, honor literature published in the U.S. in autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Febos is one of 10 winners in the 2021 class.
“Few things could mean more to me professionally than this particular award,” says Febos. “Before this book was published, my wife, who was a finalist herself in the poetry category, asked me what my wildest dream was for the book and I said, ‘To win the National Book Critics Circle Award.’ So you can imagine how beside myself I was to hear that it had come true.”
Girlhood (Bloomsbury) was released in March 2021 and became a national bestseller. Febos is also the acclaimed author of the memoir Whip Smart; Abandon Me, a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist and Publishing Triangle Award finalist; and her latest, Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative.
Febos joined the UI faculty in 2020 after more than 20 years in New York City.
“Leaving New York City wasn’t a decision I took lightly,” says Febos. “I was ready for a change of pace and moreover wanted to work with the creative writing students in the Nonfiction Writing Program and the undergraduate creative writing major. It has been an absolute joy to work with them and I am thrilled to work with my students and my brilliant and dedicated colleagues in the English department.”
In addition to this award, she is the recipient of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary; and of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, Bread Loaf, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The BAU Institute, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Foundation, and others. Her essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The Believer, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Granta, The Yale Review, Tin House, The Sun, New York Review of Books, and The New York Times Magazine.
Donika Kelly, assistant professor of English at Iowa specializing in poetry writing and gender studies in contemporary American literature, in January also was named a finalist for the award for her book of poetry, The Renunciations, which published in May 2021. Kelly is the author of the chapbook Aviarium, published with fivehundred places in 2017, and the full-length collections Bestiary (Graywolf Press 2016).