Lesley Nneka Arimah, a debut author from Minneapolis, has won the Kirkus Prize for fiction for her story collection, “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky,” published by Riverhead. The annual prize, which comes with an award of $50,000, was announced Thursday evening at a ceremony in Austin, Texas.
Other winners were Jack E. Davis, whose book “The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea,” published by Liveright, took home the nonfiction prize. The prize for young people’s literature went to “The Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline, published by DCB.
Arimah was born in the United Kingdom and grew up partly in Nigeria, where some of the stories in the collection are set. She moved to the United States when she was 13. The panel of judges, which included novelist Meg Wolitzer, called the book “kaleidoscopic and emotionally powerful. . . . Arimah’s stylistic breadth and intelligence are evident on every page of this masterful debut.” Arimah was recently named one of the “5 Under 35” fiction writers by the National Book Foundation.
Davis is a professor of environmental history at the University of Florida, and “The Gulf” is his detailed narrative history of the Gulf of Mexico. The judges praised Davis’ “deft, vivid portraits of the men and women who saw the Gulf as a source of sustenance, inspiration, and, not least, wealth.”
Dimaline, a Métis writer and editor from Canada, is the author of several novels for young adults. “The Marrow Thieves,” a dystopian story set in a futuristic Canada in the wake of an environmental disaster, was praised by the judges as “poetic and lyrical.”
The Kirkus Prizes are awarded by Kirkus Reviews, a monthly magazine that reviews books before publication. The six finalists in each category were chosen from among the 1,272 titles that received a “starred” review. Past winners of the Kirkus Prize include “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “In the Darkroom” by Susan Faludi.