It’s the beginning of prize season in the world of books. Here at Kirkus Reviews, the nominees for the 2016 Kirkus Prize were announced last week, among them Annie Proulx’s epic novel Barkskins, Michael Eric Dyson’s politically charged study The Black Presidency, and Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn, a novel for young readers set in the Summer of Sam. The winner will be announced on November 3. Across the water, the UK’s top nonfiction award, the Baillie Gifford Prize, has drawn a similarly stellar field of candidates, led by Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time and followed by such fine books as Charles Foster’s Being a Beast and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene.
Alexievich won the biggest of all literary awards, the Nobel Prize in literature, last year. As early as next week, and probably on October 6—though perhaps later in the month—the 2016 winner will be announced. I hedge those words because the Swedish Academy usually names the literature winner on a Thursday, but lately it has also timed the announcement to coincide with the Frankfurt Book Fair, which doesn’t fall till the third week of the month. I hedge them, too, because the Nobel has become a wildly popular matter for wagering; back across the water, the good folk at Ladbrokes are posting a field that includes American perennial Philip Roth, the great Japanese fabulist Haruki Murakami, and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who writes in English and Gikuyu. At this writing Murakami is leading the betting. Longer shots are Ali Ahmad Said Esber, the Syrian poet who writes under the name Adunis, and the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare.
For those who are keeping track, by the way, Ngugi wa Thiong’o was just awarded the Pak Kyong Ni Prize, a recently established South Korean honor commemorating the work of a writer whose greatest achievement was a 20-volume novel called Land, published between 1969 and 1994.
Bob Dylan is frequently mentioned as a dark horse for the Nobel, and sometimes so is his contemporary Joyce Carol Oates, who, half a century ago, wrote a much-anthologized short story under Dylan’s influence. Oates is much liked in France, where the second cut for the Prix Goncourt will be announced next week. It seems a safe bet, while we’re wagering, that few American readers will know much about the writers on the Goncourt’s slate; only one American writer figures on the Goncourt’s cousin, the Prix Médicis, namely Nell Zink, whose Mislaid bears a nicely Shakespearean title in the French translation. Just so, it seems a safe bet to assume that Lionel Shriver will not be winning any multicultural literary awards in the next little while, thanks to a small tempest she kicked up a couple of weeks ago in Australia on the matter of cultural appropriation.
Two American writers turn up on the shortlist for Britain’s Man Booker Prize, by the way: Paul Beatty, whose The Sellout has been a surprise hit throughout the world, and Otessa Moshfegh, whose novel Eileen we heralded when it appeared in the United States last year. Other writers on the Man Booker shortlist include the well-liked English writer Deborah Levy and the Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien, for Hot Milk and Do Not Say We Have Nothing, respectively. The winner will be announced on October 25.
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.