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And the winners of this year’s $50,000 Kirkus Prize are . . .

Emily Temple

October 24, 2019, 8:00pm

At a ceremony tonight at the Austin Public Library, Kirkus Reviews announced the winners of their sixth annual Kirkus Prize in three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature. Each winner was chosen from a shortlist announced last month; the shortlists were whittled down from the 1,264 titles that received a starred review from Kirkus this year. The $50,000 prize goes to:

nickel boysFiction: Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys (Doubleday)

In a press release, the prize’s judges commented:

Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys evokes race in America not as a concept but as a condition of being. In this modern historical novel, Whitehead exposes the Nickel Academy and the fate of its boys. With profound compassion and the elegance of a skilled craftsman, he reveals the tragedy of our not-too-distant past, which is also the tragedy of our present. Like all classics, the book works on many different levels: A significant social drama, it is direct, accessible and unrelenting both as allegory and as cautionary tale. This is our history. It is our story.”

Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our LivesNonfiction: Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster)

In a press release, the prize’s judges commented:

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir, by Saeed Jones, is a tightly crafted work that explodes with vitality. Like the best of memoirs, Jones’s is a journey of exploration, discovery, and reassurance. Yet, through his years of coming of age and coming out, he does not travel alone. His journey is our journey—the reader’s and, most importantly, society’s. His self-reflection forces our own. His tenacious honesty compels us to be honest with ourselves. His experiences—negotiating grief, family dynamics, and a forthright identity—require our reckoning. How We Fight for Our Lives is never pushy, preachy, or emphatic; it is simply palpable and seductive and, with just the right touch at just the right moments, delightfully humorous. Saeed Jones has given us a book for the ages.

Jerry Craft, color by Jim Callahan, New KidYoung Readers’ Literature: Jerry Craft, color by Jim Callahan, New Kid (HarperCollins)

In that very same press release, the prize’s judges commented yet again:

New Kid is a laugh-out-loud combination of art and story that showcases the beauty of graphic novels. Author and illustrator Jerry Craft, along with colorist Jim Callahan, illuminates the angst of an African American child leaving his neighborhood to start seventh grade in a predominantly white private school. We are invited to befriend Jordan, the likeable protagonist, as well as the richly-drawn members who inhabit his communities. In this intergenerational story, every character is treated compassionately. It could only be written by someone who himself has responded to microaggressions and successfully navigated power structures. Jordan Banks is a code-switcher, an activist, and a peacemaker, a superhero for us all.

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