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.

5 Books Honored with The Kirkus Prize in 2023

Winner - Fiction

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
by James McBride

Publication Date: Aug 08, 2023
List Price: $28.00
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9780593422946
Imprint: Riverhead Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann

Read a Description of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

Book Description: 

“McBride’s pages burst with life… This endlessly rich saga highlights the different ways in which people look out for one another.&rdquo —Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)

“The interlocking destinies of [McBride’s] characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. … If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?” —Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)

“Funny, tender, knockabout, gritty, and suspenseful, McBride’s microcosmic, socially critiquing, and empathic novel dynamically celebrates difference, kindness, ingenuity, and the force that compels us to move heaven and earth to help each other.” —Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)

From James McBride, author of the bestselling Oprah’s Book Club pick Deacon King Kong and the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, a novel about small-town secrets and the people who keep them

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe.

As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

Bringing his masterly storytelling skills and his deep faith in humanity to The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, James McBride has written a novel as compassionate as Deacon King Kong and as inventive as The Good Lord Bird.

Finalist - Fiction

Witness: Stories
by Jamel Brinkley

Publication Date: Aug 01, 2023
List Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9780374607036
Imprint: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers
Parent Company: Holtzbrinck Publishing Group

Read a Description of Witness: Stories

Book Description: 

From a National Book Award finalist, Witness is an elegant, insistent narrative of actions taken and not taken.

What does it mean to take action? To bear witness? What does it cost?

In these ten stories, each set in the changing landscapes of contemporary New York City, a range of characters—from children to grandmothers to ghosts—live through the responsibility of perceiving and the moral challenge of speaking up or taking action. Though they strive to connect, to remember, to stand up for, and to really see each other, they often fall short, and the structures they build around these ambitions and failures shape not only their own futures but the legacies and prospects of their families and their city.

In its portraits of families and friendships lost and found, the paradox of intimacy, the long shadow of grief, the meaning of home, Witness enacts its own testimony. Here is a world where fortunes can be made and stolen in just a few generations, where strangers might sometimes show kindness while those we trust—doctors, employers, siblings—too often turn away, where joy comes in snatches: flowers on a windowsill, dancing in the street, glimpsing your purpose, change on the horizon.

With prose as unendingly beautiful as it is artfully, seamlessly crafted, Jamel Brinkley offers nothing less than the full scope of life and death and change in the great, unending drama of the city.

Finalist - Fiction

Let Us Descend
by Jesmyn Ward

Publication Date: Oct 24, 2023
List Price: $28.00
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9781982104498
Imprint: Scribner
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Parent Company: KKR & Co. Inc.

Read Our Review of Let Us Descend

Read a Description of Let Us Descend

Book Description: 

From Jesmyn Ward—the two-time National Book Award winner, youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction, and MacArthur Fellow—comes a haunting masterpiece, sure to be an instant classic, about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War.

’Let us descend,’ the poet now began, ’and enter this blind world.’ —Inferno, Dante Alighieri

Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.

Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.

From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this miracle of a novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land—the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward’s most magnificent novel yet, a masterwork for the ages.

Finalist - Nonfiction

How to Say Babylon: A Memoir
by Safiya Sinclair

Publication Date: Aug 29, 2023
List Price: $28.99
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Classification: Nonfiction
ISBN13: 9781982132330
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Parent Company: KKR & Co. Inc.

Read a Description of How to Say Babylon: A Memoir

Book Description: 

With echoes of Educated and Born a Crime, How to Say Babylon is the stunning story of the author’s struggle to break free of her rigid Rastafarian upbringing, ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal views and repressive control of her childhood, to find her own voice as a woman and poet.

Throughout her childhood, Safiya Sinclair’s father, a volatile reggae musician and militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, became obsessed with her purity, in particular, with the threat of what Rastas call Babylon, the immoral and corrupting influences of the Western world outside their home. He worried that womanhood would make Safiya and her sisters morally weak and impure, and believed a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.

In an effort to keep Babylon outside the gate, he forbade almost everything. In place of pants, the women in her family were made to wear long skirts and dresses to cover their arms and legs, head wraps to cover their hair, no make-up, no jewelry, no opinions, no friends. Safiya’s mother, while loyal to her father, nonetheless gave Safiya and her siblings the gift of books, including poetry, to which Safiya latched on for dear life. And as Safiya watched her mother struggle voicelessly for years under housework and the rigidity of her father’s beliefs, she increasingly used her education as a sharp tool with which to find her voice and break free. Inevitably, with her rebellion comes clashes with her father, whose rage and paranoia explodes in increasing violence. As Safiya’s voice grows, lyrically and poetically, a collision course is set between them.

How to Say Babylon is Sinclair’s reckoning with the culture that initially nourished but ultimately sought to silence her; it is her reckoning with patriarchy and tradition, and the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica. Rich in lyricism and language only a poet could evoke, How to Say Babylon is both a universal story of a woman finding her own power and a unique glimpse into a rarefied world we may know how to name, Rastafari, but one we know little about.

Finalist - Young Readers’ Literature

Together We Swim
by Valerie Bolling, Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Publication Date: Aug 15, 2023
List Price: $16.99
Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
Classification: Fiction
Target Age Group: Early Reader
ISBN13: 9781797212494
Imprint: Chronicle Books
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Parent Company: McEvoy Group

Read a Description of Together We Swim

Book Description: 

Dive into a delightful narrative that encapsulates the special bond between a mother and her son as he embarks on the unforgettable adventure of his first swimming lessons.

A Leap into the Blue

  • There’s a unique mix of exhilaration and anxiety when you’re about to take that first jump into the water. But with the comforting embrace of his mother, our young hero discovers the thrill of making a splash. Celebrate determination, joy, and family love in this uplifting tale.

Highlights of the Book:

  • Vibrant Storytelling: Experience the rhythmic dance of words combined with bright, colorful illustrations that vividly capture the essence of swimming against the calming blue backdrop.
  • For the Little Swimmers: A wonderful companion for children who might have a few butterflies about their first dip in the pool.
  • Nostalgic for Parents: Dive into cherished memories of swimming milestones, making it a precious story for parents to relive with their little ones.
  • Captivating Read Aloud: The rhythmic and vibrant text ensures an engaging story-time session.
  • A Gift for Moms: Searching for the perfect Mother’s Day or birthday present? This heartwarming portrayal of mother-child bonding is sure to be a hit!

Who Will Adore This Book?

  • Those on the lookout for a memorable Mother’s Day present.
  • Young adventurers about to embark on their swimming journey.
  • Parents, grandparents, and caregivers wanting to introduce kids to the joys of swimming.
  • Educators, teachers, and librarians in search of a spirited aquatic tale.
  • Fans of beloved titles like Jabari Jumps, Llama Llama Learns to Swim, and Hair Love.