Ta-Nehisi Coates and Hanya Yanagihara were expected to win the Kirkus Prizes — and yesterday, they did, in fact, win the Kirkus Prizes. (Since the two of them are also, as we recently announced, candidates for the National Book Award, it’s not unlikely that Between the World and Me and A Little Life will both also come away with that.) Pam Muñoz Ryan also won in the category of Young readers’ literature, for Echo. In order to be considered, they had to have received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews — and then compete against 1,032 other titles. The winners were announced at a ceremony in Austin, TX, and each came away with $50,000.
Coates was praised by judges for “a formidable literary achievement and a crucial, urgent, and nuanced contribution to a long-overdue national conversation.” His nonfiction book is a letter to his teenage son about inhabiting a black body in America, and left Toni Morrison saying, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”
Meanwhile, judges praised Yanagihara’s A Little Life for being “disturbing yet humane, capacious yet intimate, and never less than brilliant.” The 700+ page book follows a group of four friends in New York across decades, but increasingly focuses on the character Jude, who’s become a successful litigator. “With Jude at its center,” writes Jon Michaud in The New Yorker, “A Little Life becomes a surprisingly subversive novel—one that uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery.”
Finally, the judges called Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo a “masterwork by a virtuoso storyteller.” It follows a boy who gets lost in the woods and meet three sisters and becomes embroiled in a quest whose link seems to be a mysterious harmonica.