Books Honored with The Kirkus Prize

The Kirkus Prize Seal

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.


8 Books Honored with The Kirkus Prize in 2019

Winner - Fiction

The Nickel Boys: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead

Publication Date:
List Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9780385537070
Imprint: Doubleday
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC
Borrow from Library

Read a Description of The Nickel Boys: A Novel


Book Description: 
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.

Winner - Nonfiction

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir
by Saeed Jones

    Publication Date:
    List Price: $26.00
    Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9781501132735
    Imprint: Simon & Schuster
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
    Parent Company: CBS Corporation
    Borrow from Library

    Read Our Review of How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir


    Read a Description of How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir


    Book Description: 

    >From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

    “People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ’I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ’I am no longer yours.’”

    Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

    Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.


    Winner - Young Readers’ Literature

    New Kid
    by Jerry Craft

    Publication Date:
    List Price: $21.99
    Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
    Classification: Children’s
    ISBN13: 9780062691200
    Imprint: HarperCollins
    Publisher: HarperCollins
    Parent Company: News Corporation
    Borrow from Library

    Read Our Review of New Kid


    Read a Description of New Kid


    Book Description: 
    Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

    Finalist - Fiction

    The Other Americans
    by Laila Lalami

      Publication Date:
      List Price: $25.95
      Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
      Classification: Fiction
      ISBN13: 9781524747145
      Imprint: Pantheon Books
      Publisher: Penguin Random House
      Parent Company: Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC
      Borrow from Library

      Read a Description of The Other Americans


      Book Description: 

      From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Moor’s Account, here is a timely and powerful novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant—at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture.

      Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she'd left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora's and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son's secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself.

      As the characters—deeply divided by race, religion, and class—tell their stories, connections among them emerge, even as Driss’s family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born.


      Finalist - Nonfiction

      Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest
      by Hanif Abdurraqib

        Publication Date:
        List Price: $16.95
        Format: Paperback, 216 pages
        Classification: Nonfiction
        ISBN13: 9781477316481
        Imprint: University of Texas Press
        Publisher: University of Texas Press
        Parent Company: University of Texas at Austin
        Borrow from Library

        Read a Description of Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest


        Book Description: 

        A New York Times Best Seller

        A February IndieNext Pick

        Named A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 by Buzzfeed, Nylon, The A. V. Club, CBC Books, and The Rumpus. And a Winter’s Most Anticipated Book by Vanity Fair and The Week

        Starred Reviews: Kirkus and Booklist

        "Warm, immediate and intensely personal."—New York Times

        How does one pay homage to A Tribe Called Quest? The seminal rap group brought jazz into the genre, resurrecting timeless rhythms to create masterpieces such as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Seventeen years after their last album, they resurrected themselves with an intense, socially conscious record, We Got It from Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service, which arrived when fans needed it most, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib digs into the group’s history and draws from his own experience to reflect on how its distinctive sound resonated among fans like himself. The result is as ambitious and genre-bending as the rap group itself.

        Abdurraqib traces the Tribe’s creative career, from their early days as part of the Afrocentric rap collective known as the Native Tongues, through their first three classic albums, to their eventual breakup and long hiatus. Their work is placed in the context of the broader rap landscape of the 1990s, one upended by sampling laws that forced a reinvention in production methods, the East Coast-West Coast rivalry that threatened to destroy the genre, and some record labels’ shift from focusing on groups to individual MCs. Throughout the narrative Abdurraqib connects the music and cultural history to their street-level impact. Whether he’s remembering The Source magazine cover announcing the Tribe’s 1998 breakup or writing personal letters to the group after bandmate Phife Dawg’s death, Abdurraqib seeks the deeper truths of A Tribe Called Quest; truths that—like the low end, the bass—are not simply heard in the head, but felt in the chest.


        Finalist - Young Readers’ Literature

        The Undefeated
        by Kwame Alexander, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

        Publication Date:
        List Price: $17.99
        Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
        Classification: Children’s
        ISBN13: 9781328780966
        Imprint: Versify
        Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
        Parent Company: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
        Borrow from Library

        Read Our Review of The Undefeated


        Read a Description of The Undefeated


        Book Description: 
        The Newbery Award-winning author of THE CROSSOVER pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
        Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.


        Finalist - Young Readers’ Literature

        On The Come Up
        by Angie Thomas

        Publication Date:
        List Price: $18.99
        Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
        Classification: Children’s
        ISBN13: 9780062498564
        Imprint: Balzer + Bray
        Publisher: HarperCollins
        Parent Company: News Corporation
        Borrow from Library

        Read a Description of On The Come Up


        Book Description: 

        This is the highly anticipated second novel by Angie Thomas, the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning The Hate U Give. Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least get some streams on her mixtape. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her mom unexpectedly loses her job, food banks and shut-off notices become as much a part of her life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

        On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are, and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working class black families.Brilliant, insightful, full of heart, this novel is another modern classic from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation.




        Finalist - Young Readers’ Literature

        Genesis Begins Again
        by Alicia D. Williams

          Publication Date:
          List Price: $17.99
          Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
          Classification: Children’s
          ISBN13: 9781481465809
          Imprint: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
          Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
          Parent Company: CBS Corporation
          Borrow from Library

          Read a Description of Genesis Begins Again


          Book Description: 

          “Reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
          New York Times

          • A Kirkus Prize Finalist 2019
          • William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist 2019
          • An NPR Favorite Book of 2019
          • A School Library Journal Best Middle Grade Book of 2019
          • A Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Book of 2019
          • Top AALBC Book on the subject of “Colorism

          This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

          There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

          What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

          But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?






          Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors.
          Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.