It's the 10th year of the Kirkus Prize. Meet the winners of a top literary award
The Kirkus Prize, a leading literary award, has been awarded this year to authors Ariel Aberg-Riger, Héctor Tobar and James McBride. The prize selects winners in the categories of fiction, nonfiction and young reader's literature from a pool of nearly 11,000 authors whose books appeared in Kirkus Reviews, the influential journal known for starred prepublication reviews.
Established 10 years ago, the prize includes a cash award of $50,000 per author. "History and community emerged as central themes in the most outstanding works of literature published this year," Kirkus Reviews publisher Meg Kuehn said in a statement. "We see these ideas come to life in wildly different ways in all three of this year's winners, each one compelling from beginning to end, begging to be celebrated, discussed, and shared."
Fiction winner James McBride has long been well known on the awards circuit; his numerous bestselling books include his 1995 memoir The Color of Water and the novel The Good Lord Bird, which won a National Book Award in 2013. McBride's The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store was described by judges as "a boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice."
Their citation noted that the novel is set in the racially mixed Chicken Hill neighborhood of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where Black and Jewish families lived together in the 1930s. "James McBride has created a vibrant fictional world as only this master storyteller can," the judges continued. "The characters' interlocking lives make for tense, absorbing drama as well as warm, humane comedy. This is a novel about small-town American life that is clear-eyed about prejudice yet full of hope for the power of community."
Héctor Tobar won for nonfiction. His Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of "Latino," was described by judges as "a pensive examination of the many ways there are to be Latinx in America." Tobar's best known book, Deep Down Dark, from 2014, movingly documented how Chilean miners accidentally trapped underground for months were able to survive. It was made into the Hollywood film The 33, starring Antonio Banderas.
The Kirkus judges called Our Migrant Souls a "vital work of autobiography and cultural commentary — which also serves as a potent manifesto. " It is, they continued, an essential book by a veteran Los Angeles Times journalist. "Tobar goes beyond reductive newspaper headlines and inflammatory political discourse to portray the complexities and contradictions of Latinx experience in the U.S." they wrote. "Featuring eye-opening interviews with people from across the country, this elegantly written, refreshingly forthright book brings into sharp focus a massive yet marginalized community."
The young readers' literature prize went to Ariel Aberg-Riger, whose book, America Redux: Visual Stories From Our Dynamic History, was described by the judges as "an illustrated journey through lesser-known and frequently erased parts of United States history."
It is Aberg-Riger's first book. A self-taught artist, she used archival photographs, maps and handwritten text in what the judges called "a rousing work of young adult nonfiction." It demonstrates, they continued, "that history, far from being dusty and irrelevant, is a subject that teens will eagerly engage with — if we give them what they deserve: provocative, courageous, and inclusive books that respect their passion and intellect. Balancing vibrant collage art with captivating text, Aberg-Riger inspires readers to think critically and ask probing questions. At a time when books that challenge whitewashed history are coming under fire from censors, this is a vitally important work that dares to tell the truth."
Edited for the web by Rose Friedman. Produced for the web by Beth Novey.
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