Rebecca Solnit and Ling Ma are among the winners of the $50,000 Kirkus Prize

Rebecca Solnit at home in San Francisco in 2013. She's won the Kirkus Prize for her nonfiction book "Call Them by Their True Names."
(David Butow / For The Times)

Rebecca Solnit, Ling Ma, Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James were all named winners of the $50,000 Kirkus Prizes on Thursday evening at a ceremony in Austin, Texas.

Ma won the fiction award for “Severance,” her post-apocalyptic horror satire about a millennial office worker who becomes one of the only survivors of a deadly plague that sweeps the world.

The award for nonfiction went to Rebecca Solnit for “Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays),” an essay collection about politics, racism and climate change, among other topics. Solnit’s book also made the longlist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction this year.


The Kirkus Prizes, sponsored by the book review magazine Kirkus Reviews and first awarded in 2014, are some of the newest literary awards in the United States.

They come with a $50,000 cash prize, which also makes them among the most lucrative. (The National Book Award comes with a $10,000 payment and winners of the Pulitzer Prize receive $15,000.)

Kirkus Prize winners are selected from those books that receive starred reviews during the prior year. This year, there were 1,193 titles in contention for the three awards.

The Kirkus Prize for young readers’ literature went to author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon C. James for “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” which focuses on the happiness of African American boys who have just gotten their hair cut. “Crown” was previously named both a Newbery Honor book and a Caldecott Honor book.

Ma is the second author to win the fiction prize for her first book. Lesley Nneka Arimah took home the award last year for her debut short story collection “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky.”

This year’s judges included writers Sandra Cisneros, Marie Lu and Carina Chocano, in addition to reviewers, bookstore staff and a librarian.


Ma’s competition for the fiction award included Naima Coster (“Halsey Street”), Lauren Groff (“Florida”), Eduardo Halfon (“Mourning”), Nafissa Thompson-Spires (“Heads of the Colored People”) and Katie Williams (“Tell the Machine Good Night”).

Other nonfiction finalists included Timothy Snyder’s “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America,” Beth Macy’s “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America,” Shane Bauer’s “American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment,” Kiese Laymon’s “Heavy: An American Memoir” and Sarah Smarsh’s “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.”

“Crown” won the young readers’ literature prize over “Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales, “Merci Suárez Changes Gears” by Meg Medina, “Harbor Me” by Jacqueline Woodson, “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo and “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi.

Past winners of the Kirkus Prize include Roz Chast, Hanya Yanagihara, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Susan Faludi and Jason Reynolds.