And the Winner Is ...

October 29, 2019

And the Winner Is ...

On Friday, October 24, around 250 writers, editors, book reviewers, members of the media, and their guests gathered at the gorgeous Austin Central Library in Austin, Texas, to celebrate this year’s Kirkus Prize finalists and announce the winners.

Each year, the Kirkus Prize awards a commissioned art piece created by the duo Vezzini and Chen in London as well as $50,000 to one winner in each of three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature. This year’s winners were chosen from the 1,264 titles that received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews during the past year. An esteemed panel of judges composed of nationally respected writers and highly regarded booksellers, librarians, and Kirkus critics selected the finalists and winners.

Without further ado, the winners of the 2019 Kirkus Prize are ...


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

The judges for the the fiction category included bestselling author Min Jin Lee; editor, writer, and critic David L. Ulin; and Michelle Malonzo, buyer and bookseller at Changing Hands Bookstore in Arizona. Of the winner, the judges said:

Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys evokes race in America not as a concept but as a condition of being. In this modern historical novel, Whitehead exposes the Nickel Academy and the fate of its boys. With profound compassion and the elegance of a skilled craftsman, he reveals the tragedy of our not-too-distant past, which is also the tragedy of our present. Like all classics, the book works on many different levels: a significant social drama, it is direct, accessible and unrelenting both as allegory and as cautionary tale. This is our history. It is our story.


How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster)

The judges for the nonfiction prize were Jack E. Davis, 2017 Kirkus Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize winner of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea; critic Richard Z. Santos; and bookseller Aaron John Curtis from Miami’s Books & Books. Of the winner, the judges said:

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir, by Saeed Jones, is a tightly crafted work that explodes with vitality. Like the best of memoirs, Jones’s is a journey of exploration, discovery, and reassurance. Yet, through his years of coming of age and coming out, he does not travel alone. His journey is our journey—the reader’s and, most importantly, society’s. His self-reflection forces our own. His tenacious honesty compels us to be honest with ourselves. His experiences—negotiating grief, family dynamics, and a forthright identity—require our reckoning. How We Fight for Our Lives is never pushy, preachy, or emphatic; it is simply palpable and seductive and, with just the right touch at just the right moments, delightfully humorous. Saeed Jones has given us a book for the ages. 


New Kid written & illustrated by Jerry Craft, color by Jim Callahan (HarperCollins)

The judges for the Young Readers’ Literature category included award-winning author Mitali Perkins; Kirkus critic Hanna Lee; and Pauletta Brown Bracy, professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. The judges said: 

New Kid is a laugh-out-loud combination of art and story that showcases the beauty of graphic novels. Author and illustrator Jerry Craft, along with colorist Jim Callahan, illuminates the angst of an African American child leaving his neighborhood to start seventh grade in a predominantly white private school. We are invited to befriend Jordan, the likeable protagonist, as well as the richly drawn members who inhabit his communities. In this intergenerational story, every character is treated compassionately. It could only be written by someone who himself has responded to microaggressions and successfully navigated power structures. Jordan Banks is a code-switcher, an activist, and a peacemaker, a superhero for us all.

From all of us here at the Kirkus Writers’ Center, we extend kudos to the three winners and offer gratitude and appreciation for all 18 finalists and their wonderful books. Each one was an engaging, thought-provoking, and moving read.

For more information about the Kirkus Prize and past winners, please visit    

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