2021 Kirkus Prize Winners Announced


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The eighth annual Kirkus Prize winners were announced in a special virtual ceremony hosted by the Austin Central Library. Kirkus Reviews— one of the country’s leading book review magazines— nominated 18 books in the categories of fiction, nonfiction and young adult literature. The prize is among the highest of all literary awards in the country, offering its winners $50,000 each. Past winners have include Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ling Ma, Colson Whitehead, and Rebecca Solnit.

The list of 10,000 books reviewed by Kirkus Reviews for the eligibility period were whittled down to 1,531. From that, 18 finalists for the Kirkus Prize were chosen. A panel of judges comprised of writers, librarians, booksellers, editors, and critics then determined the three winners.

Here they are:


cover of Harrow by Joy Williams

Harrow by Joy Williams

What the judges had to say:

From one of the most celebrated voices in American fiction comes this unsentimental, visionary statement—a novel that offers a chilling vision of our inescapable dystopian future. The judges applauded Williams’ unapologetic rebuke to the aspirations of the boomer generation, all the more lacerating for its mordant wit and avoidance of dewy-eyed uplift. 

Fiction finalists:


cover of Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome

Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome

 What the judges had to say:

This powerfully vulnerable and bleakly funny memoir reveals the author struggling to shake off the restrictive, frequently dangerous role of a gay, Black man in America. Broome resists an easy redemption narrative, showing instead how he gradually came to terms with internalized toxic masculinity. The judges were dazzled by the book’s unique structure, framed by Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool,” and by its self-lacerating but ultimately hopeful insights.

Nonfiction finalists:

Young Readers’ Literature

What the judges had to say:

This work of middle-grade nonfiction is written with the suspense and pacing of a thrilling adventure novel. All Thirteen brings to life each of the players in this true survival story that made global headlines in 2018, while sensitively centering Thai culture. The judges were impressed by the author’s meticulous research, supported by informative sidebars and eye-catching color photos.

Young Readers’ Finalists:

For more literary award coverage, check out our book awards archive as well as our posts on the National Book Award.


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