Books

Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys wins $50K U.S. Kirkus Prize

Colson Whitehead's novel The Nickel Boys won the fiction category of the Kirkus Prize, which comes with a $50,000 U.S. ($65,660 Cdn) purse.
Colson Whitehead's latest book is The Nickel Boys (Penguin Random House, Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Colson Whitehead's novel The Nickel Boys won the fiction category of the Kirkus Prize, which comes with a $50,000 U.S. ($65,660 Cdn) purse.

The Kirkus Prize annually selects the best fiction, nonfiction and work of children's literature from among the books that received starred reviews in their publication. The three winners, picked from 1,200 titles, will each receive $50,000 U.S. ($65,660 Cdn).

The nonfiction prize went to Saeed Jones for How We Fight for Our Lives and the young people's literature category was won by Jerry Craft for New Kid.

The Nickel Boys is based on a real reform school in Florida that operated for over a century. It follows a young black boy named Elwood Curtis who is sent to live at a juvenile reformatory after an innocent mistake. The Nickel Academy bills itself as a place of "physical, intellectual and moral training," but in reality it is a place where young boys are subject to physical and sexual abuse.

Colson Whitehead is a celebrated American writer whose previous book, The Underground Railroadwon the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Carnegie Medal for fiction and many other honours.

"Whitehead's novel displays its author's facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole," said Kirkus Reviews on its website.

Jones's memoir describes growing up as a young, gay black man in the American south. Over a series of vignettes, Jones tells stories of relationships with family members and lovers, building a portrait of how identity, race and sexuality interact and manifest in America.

"A memoir of coming to terms that's written with masterful control of both style and material," said Kirkus in their starred review of the book.

Jones is a writer based in New York and author of the award-winning poetry book Prelude to Bruise.

New Kid is a graphic novel written by Craft and co-illustrated by Craft and Jim Callahan. It tells the story of Jordan Banks, the new black kid at a mostly white prep school. Jordan uses his artistic talents to cope with his peers and teachers's racially charged microaggressions and behaviour.

"An engrossing, humorous and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America," said Kirkus Reviews on their website.

Craft and Callahan's book is meant for readers aged 10 to 14.

No Canadian authors were recognized by the prize in 2019.

Past Canadian winners include Georgian Bay Métis author Cherie Dimaline, who won the young readers category for the dystopian novel The Marrow Thieves in 2018.

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