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Austin-based Kirkus announces $150K book prize and Texas Writer Award winners

Michael Barnes
Austin 360
Austin author Christina Soontornvat is among the three winners of the 2021 Kirkus Prize. She won for the nonfiction work, "All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team."

TheKirkus Prize is back with venerated books and big bucks.

Winners of Austin's most bounteous literary prize — $150,000 split among three authors — were announced via YouTube from Austin Central Public Library on Thursday night.

Distributed by the Austin-based literary magazine, Kirkus Reviews, the winners are as follows, accompanied by the official judges' statements:

Fiction

"Harrow" by Joy Williams (Knopf): "From one of the most celebrated voices in American fiction comes this unsentimental, visionary statement — a novel that offers a chilling vision of our inescapable dystopian future. The judges applauded Williams’ unapologetic rebuke to the aspirations of the boomer generation, all the more lacerating for its mordant wit and avoidance of dewy-eyed uplift. 'Harrow' is major contribution to the library of eco-fiction."

Nonfiction

"Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir " by Brian Broome (Mariner Books). "This powerfully vulnerable and bleakly funny memoir reveals the author struggling to shake off the restrictive, frequently dangerous role of a gay, Black man in America. Broome resists an easy redemption narrative, showing instead how he gradually came to terms with internalized toxic masculinity. The judges were dazzled by the book’s unique structure, framed by Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem 'We Real Cool,' and by its self-lacerating but ultimately hopeful insights."

More:5 things to expect at the hybrid 2021 Texas Book Festival

Young Readers’ Literature

"All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team" by Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick): "This work of middle-grade nonfiction is written with the suspense and pacing of a thrilling adventure novel. 'All Thirteen' brings to life each of the players in this true survival story that made global headlines in 2018, while sensitively centering Thai culture. The judges were impressed by the author’s meticulous research, supported by informative sidebars and eye-catching color photos."

What should I know about the Kirkus Prize?

Sootornvat, based in Austin, previously won two Newbery Honor Books awards from the American Library Association. This is the first time the Kirkus Prize in young readers' literature went to a work of nonfiction.

The judges for the 2021 Kirkus Prize in fiction were bestselling author Rumaan Alam; critic Elsbeth Lindner; bookseller Ikwo Ntekim; and Laurie Muchnick, fiction editor at Kirkus Reviews.

Since first announced in 2014, the Kirkus Prize has been timed to coincide with the Texas Book Festival, much as the Texas Film Awards serve as a curtain raiser for South by Southwest each March. Fans will be able to hear from the Kirkus finalists during a book festival virtual event at 7 p.m. on Oct. 30.

Who won the Texas Writer Award?

The Texas Book Festival also confers the Texas Writer Award each year to a Texas author who has made a significant contribution to the literary arts. On Oct. 21, the festival so honored Don Tate, a former illustrator for the American-Statesman. Tate has authored and/or illustrated more than 80 books for young readers.

"His books are joyful and instructive histories and stories for readers everywhere, especially young Black and brown readers who find representation and inspiration in Tate’s books," festival leaders said in a news release. "Don also gives so much of his time to inspire young readers through school visits to elementary schools across Texas and beyond."

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.