Books Honored with The Kirkus Prize

The Kirkus Prize Seal

First awarded in 2014, The Kirkus Prize is one of the richest literary awards in the world, with a prize of $50,000 bestowed annually to authors of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature. It was created to celebrate the 86 years of discerning, thoughtful criticism Kirkus Reviews has contributed to both the publishing industry and readers at large. Books that earn the Kirkus Star are automatically nominated for the Kirkus Prize. The Kirkus Prize judges select three winners each year in October. Below are books written by writers of African descent.


4 Books Honored with The Kirkus Prize in 2016

Winner - Young Readers’ Literature

Book Description: When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires—literally—in this piercing middle grade novel by the winner of the Coretta Scott King Johnson Steptoe Award.Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans). How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all. Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?

Finalist - Fiction

Book Description: 
“Every now and then a book comes along that reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in, and stays forever. This is one. It’s a tour de force, and I don’t say that lightly.” —Oprah Winfrey says, Oprah’s Book Club 2016 Selection

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of A Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.



Finalist - Nonfiction

The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
by Michael Eric Dyson

Publication Date:
List Price: $27.00
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Classification: Nonfiction
ISBN13: 9780544387669
Imprint: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Parent Company: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read a Description of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America


Book Description: 
A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America’s first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair).

Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama’s major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes?

Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage.

President Obama’s own voice—from an Oval Office interview granted to Dyson for this book—along with those of Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Maxine Waters, among others, add unique depth to this profound tour of the nation’s first black presidency.


Finalist - Young Readers’ Literature

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
by Ashley Bryan

Publication Date:
List Price: $17.99
Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
Classification: Fiction
Target Age Group: Middle Grade
ISBN13: 9781481456906
Imprint: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Parent Company: CBS Corporation
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Read a Description of Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life


Book Description: 

Charlotte and Dora from the book Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.

Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as a lantern.

You, an object. An object to sell.

In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN’T be bought or sold—dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his “workers”, Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. Through fierce paintings and expansive poetry he imagines and interprets each person’s life on the plantation, as well as the life their owner knew nothing about—their dreams and pride in knowing that they were worth far more than an Overseer or Madam ever would guess. Visually epic, and never before done, this stunning picture book is unlike anything you’ve seen.