NEW YORK — The National Book Critics Circle's 1987 book awards were presented at New York University on Jan. 28 in a ceremony interrupted, improbably enough, by two fire alarms, one of which was said to have resulted from a bomb threat. A bizarre confrontation: Publishers, willing enough to flee into the frosty night without their furs, defied firemen and police to rescue the precious manuscripts that many had left in the coatroom. When a second alarm went off, a good portion of the audience called it a night and so missed a moving speech by Robert Giroux, recipient of a special NBCC board award for lifetime achievement.
The NBCC book prize winners, as previously announced, were: in fiction, Philip Roth, for "The Counterlife" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); in nonfiction, Richard Rhodes, for "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (Simon & Schuster); in poetry, C. K. Williams, for "Flesh and Blood" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); in biography, Donald Howard for "Chaucer: His Life, His Work, His World" (William Abrahams/E.P. Dutton); and in criticism, Edwin Denby, for "Dance Writings" (Alfred A. Knopf).
Both alarms turned out to be false.
SHORT STORY WINNERS: The University of Georgia Press has announced the winners of the sixth annual Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction: Gail Galloway Adams of Morgantown, W. Va., and Carole L. Glickfeld of Seattle. Winners each receive a $500 cash prize and publication of their manuscript by the University of Georgia Press.
Meanwhile, Quality Paperback Book Club has given its fourth annual New Voice Award to Isabel Huggan for her short story collection, "The Elizabeth Stories" (Viking/Penguin). This prize, which includes a cash award of $5,000, honors the most distinctive and promising work of fiction offered by the club in 1987.
MORE PRIZES: The Whitbread Prize is one of the two major literary prizes of the United Kingdom, the other being the Booker Prize for fiction. Whitbreads are awarded in several categories each Fall; one of the winners is later named Whitbread Book of the Year.
The 1987 Whitbread Book of the Year, just announced, is Christopher Nolan's "Under the Eye of the Clock," the autobiography of a 21-year-old Irishman, mute and paralyzed since birth. Several years ago, Nolan, who writes his books letter by letter with a typing stick attached to his head, produced a widely admired book of poetry, "Dam-Burst of Dreams." His new book is in prose, but the prose is said to be of a striking and lyric originality. The American edition of "Under the Eye of the Clock" will be published next month by St. Martin's.
CHILDREN'S CHOICES: The American Library Assn's. Randolph Caldecott Medal for "distinguished picture book" was awarded last month to John Schoenherr for "Owl Moon" (Philomel), the tale of "a luminous landscape muscled by a heavy layer of snow," said Bette Peltola, Caldecott Committee Chair. "Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters" (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard), which Times reviewer Kristiana Gregory described as a "universal fable about the perils of pride," was named the Caldecott Honor Book. "Lincoln: A Photobiography" (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin) won the Newbery Award for children's literature, while Norma Fox Mazer's "After the Rain" (Morrow) and Gary Paulsen's "Hatchet" were named Newbery Honor Books. The awards will be presented July 10 at the association's banquet in New Orleans.
CROWN-BANTAM-CBS: Together again! And for whom else but Judith Krantz, whose fifth novel, "Till We Meet Again," is scheduled for publication in September, 1988. Producer of the CBS mini-series will be, who else, Krantz's husband, Steve.
NEW LINK FOR CONJUNCTIONS: The semiannual literary journal Conjunctions, widely noticed since its creation five years ago by editor Bradford Morrow, is leaving David R. Godine, Boston, for Scribner's Sons and Collier Books, New York. Morrow will remain as editor; the first issue under the new auspices will appear in September, 1988.
KIDS' CHOLESTEROL: Robert E. Kowalski, whose "The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure" (Harper & Row) has millions of Americans eating oat-bran muffins and popping niacin tablets, will publish a sequel in June: "Cholesterol and Children: A Parent's Guide to Giving Children a Future Free of Heart Disease." Kowalski, who believes himself genetically predisposed to cholesterol accumulation, guessed, rightly as it turned out, that his seven-year-old son might already show the fateful signs. Using the techniques of the new book, he brought the boy's cholesterol level down from 181 to 141.
SOUTH AFRICA AND TEXTBOOKS: Should the United States ban the export of textbooks to South Africa? There are arguments on both sides of the question, but the Assn. of American Publishers says no, claiming that the intangible loss to black as well as white students outweighs any tangible profit to textbook importers: "The AAP shares with those concerned an abhorrence of apartheid and shares the laudable objective of seeking to change the political system of South Africa. We are convinced, however, that the free communication of ideas is more likely to lead to that change than a ban on selling American books."