The 2021 Kirkus Prizes will be awarded Thursday at 6 p.m. EDT in a virtual ceremony livestreamed for the public on YouTube from the Austin Central Library in Texas. The ceremony will be hosted by Kirkus Media CEO Meg LaBorde Kuehn.
This is the eighth year for the $50,000 prizes, some of the most lucrative literary awards in the world. The Kirkus Prize is awarded in three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature.
The finalists will attend the event via Zoom from around the United States and the world, with authors joining from Argentina, Finland, and Australia.
The ceremony will feature a series of prerecorded “cocktail” conversations with the authors, illustrators, and translators of this year’s nominated books, led by Megan Labrise, host of Kirkus’ weekly podcast, Fully Booked. The conversations are a nod to the cocktail-party atmosphere of the ceremony when it is held in person at the Austin Central Library.
The finalists for this year’s fiction awards are The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell; The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers; My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson; Bolla by Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston; Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; and Harrow by Joy Williams.
The judges for the fiction award are bestselling author Rumaan Alam; critic Elsbeth Lindner; bookseller Ikwo Ntekim; and Laurie Muchnick, fiction editor at Kirkus Reviews.
In nonfiction, the finalists are Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir by Brian Broome; People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present by Dara Horn; All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles; Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke; Lightning Flowers: My Journey To Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life by Katherine E. Standefer; and Horizontal Vertigo: A City Called Mexico by Juan Villoro, translated by Alfred MacAdam.
Judging this year’s nonfiction prize are National Book Award–winning author Masha Gessen; critic Margaret Quamme; bookseller Karen Maeda Allman; and Eric Liebetrau, nonfiction and managing editor of Kirkus Reviews.
The young reader’s literature category is comprised of a combination of picture books, middle-grade books, and young adult titles. The picture book finalists are Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara; and Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by the late Floyd Cooper. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat and Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes and 19 illustrators are middle-grade finalists. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim and The Life I’m In by Sharon G. Flake are young adult finalists.
The judges for the young readers’ literature are Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye; critic Amy Robinson; youth services librarian Chrystal Carr Jeter; and Laura Simeon, young readers’ editor at Kirkus Reviews.
Readers can watch the livestreamed ceremony on YouTube here. (Festive attire and cocktails are encouraged at home.)
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.