The first-ever Kirkus Prize winners were announced Thursday in Austin, Texas; each gets $50,000.
Roz Chast took the nonfiction prize with her graphic memoir, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant.” The fiction prize went to Lily King for her novel “Euphoria.” The prize for young readers’ literature goes to Kate Samworth, author of “Aviary Wonders Inc.”
Kirkus is one of a handful of industry standard publications that provide advance reviews to bookstores and librarians making choices about what books to stock. Only books that received starred reviews in Kirkus -- not an easy feat -- were eligible for the prizes.
King’s “Euphoria” is partially based on the story of three real anthropologists -- Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson -- tied up in a love triangle in New Guinea in 1933. The Kirkus Prize judges cited the book’s “perfect construction, its economy and originality and its fearlessness. This lushly imagined novel offers a thrilling exploration of the interplay between character and culture, between the darkness of humanity and the tenderness of the human heart,” declaring it “the fiction book of the year.”
In her memoir, Chast chronicles the slow decline of her elderly parents, bringing humor to a painful story. The Kirkus judges write: “Chast ingeniously combines cartoons, family photos, sketches, documents and text to explore a profoundly human issue: the death of one’s parents. In the hands of an author whose facility in two mediums -- illustration and prose -- is unparalleled, ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ encourages anyone who reads it to face the grim and ridiculous reality of the human condition in all its heartbreaking beauty.”
The prize for young readers’ literature, which spans children’s, middle grade and young adult books, goes to artist and first-time author Kate Samworth. “Aviary Wonders Inc.” is a picture-book story that uses the form of mail-order catalogs to, as the Kirkus judges write, confront “environmental issues in a clever and whimsical way,” finding the book “original, highly unexpected, beautiful, and thought-provoking. ‘Aviary Wonders Inc.’ is by far one of the most creative books we have ever encountered.”