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Kirkus Prize names Jesmyn Ward, Héctor Tobar among finalists for top literary award

2023 Kirkus Prize finalist Jesmyn Ward, pictured at the 2017 National Book Awards in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris
/
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2023 Kirkus Prize finalist Jesmyn Ward, pictured at the 2017 National Book Awards in New York City.

A leading literary trade publication, Kirkus Reviews, has announced 18 finalists for the 2023 Kirkus Prize in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, and Young Readers' Literature.

The award, while not as well-known as the Pulitzers or the National Book Award, is one of the most renumerative in the world of literature. Winners receive $50,000 each. Finalists were drawn from a pool of books reviewed by Kirkus editors. That included 608 young readers' literature titles, 435 fiction titles, and 435 nonfiction titles.

"From gorgeously written and moving fiction, to deeply researched and clear-eyed nonfiction, to young readers' literature that entertains and educates, the finalists represent the very best books that Kirkus has seen this year," said Kirkus Reviews editor-in-chief Tom Beer in a statement.

Kirkus Reviews, founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, is known among writers, publishers and readers for its starred reviews of books; the list of finalists follows, along with a quote from their Kirkus review.

The three Kirkus Prize winners will be announced on Oct. 11, 2023.

Fiction

Witness by Jamel Brinkley (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
"Short stories that in their depth of feeling, perception, and sense of place affirm their author's bright promise....After just two collections, Brinkley may already be a grand master of the short story."

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
"A story that's suspended on a tightrope just above nihilism, and readers will hold their breath until the last page to see whether Catton will fall. This blistering look at the horrors of late capitalism manages to also be a wildly fun read."

White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link (Random House)
"Seven modern fairy tales by a master of the short form....Enchanting, mesmerizing, brilliant work."

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (Riverhead)
"McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice....If it's possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can't James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?"

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
"An Irish family's decline is rendered in painful, affecting detail....A grim and demanding and irresistible anatomy of misfortune."

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)
"Every time you think this novel is taking you places you've been before, Ward startles you with an image, a metaphor, a rhetorical surge that [is] worth your attention. And admiration."

Nonfiction:

Red Memory: The Afterlives of China's Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan (Norton)
"The former China correspondent for the Guardian explores the 'cumulative forgetting' of the devastations of the Cultural Revolution....A heartbreaking, revelatory evocation of 'the decade that cleaved modern China in two.' "

Mr. B: George Balanchine's 20th Century by Jennifer Homans (Random House)
"An intricate, meticulously researched biography of the revered and controversial dance icon....The definitive account of a remarkable and flawed artist."

How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin (Pantheon)
"A recovering alcoholic reflects on his experiences with suicidal ideation....Disquieting, deeply felt, eye-opening, and revelatory."

How to Say Babylon: A Memoir by Safiya Sinclair (Simon & Schuster)
"A tale of reckoning and revelation focused on the author's fraught relationship with her father....More than catharsis; this is memoir as liberation."

Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of "Latino" by Héctor Tobar (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
"A pensive examination of the many ways there are to be Latinx in America....A powerful look at what it means to be a member of a community that, though large, remains marginalized."

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster)
"A gripping adventure with Ellen Craft (1826-1891) and William Craft (1824-1900), who risked their lives to escape slavery in Georgia in 1848....A captivating tale that ably captures the determination and courage of a remarkable couple."

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.