This year’s winner of the inaugural Gotham Book Prize is James McBride for his novel “Deacon King Kong” (Riverhead Books, 2020), a masterful tale that should be required reading for all New Yorkers.
The Gotham Book Prize is an award created to support New York City’s writers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bradley Tusk and Howard Wolfson created this new award during the summer of 2020 to recognize what makes New York City so special and unique, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.
To help New York City and its arts community recover from COVID-19, Tusk and Wolfson wanted to “encourage all New York’s writers with books published during the 2020 year to submit their works that celebrate the city’s unique vitality and diversity.”
Even as New York City grappled with the very real challenges presented by COVID-19 and even in its toughest days, Tusk and Wolfson argue New York City has always attracted the attention and imagination of creative, smart, ambitious people from all over the world. Therefore, it was imperative for the Gotham Book Prize committee to select a book that best represented the city’s unique diversity and energy, portrayed so well and so often in books and films, in movies and songs.
James McBrides’ “Deacon King Kong” is a riveting tale involving race, New York City neighborhoods, intrigue, and so much more. Many readers may know McBride from his previous award winning works. “The Good Lord Bird” and “The Color of Water” are just two of his other acclaimed novels that captured readers and made them think about themselves and the world just a bit differently. Others may know McBride from his debut novel, “Miracle at St. Anna”. That work was turned into a 2008 film by writer and director Spike Lee, with the script written by McBride. Others still may know McBride as a noted musician, composer, and saxophonist. Not many award winning authors can also say they’ve written songs for Anita Baker, Gary Burton and Grover Washington Jr., to name just a small few.
After reading a McBride novel, one is forever changed and left yearning for more. His books raise as many questions as they answer and implore us to assess our placement in society in new and sometimes uncertain ways.
Tusk and Wolfson plan on making the Gotham Book Prize an annual award that honors great story telling about New York City, whether fiction or nonfiction. The aim of the award is to celebrate and support a book that is either about New York City or takes place in New York City. So, start thinking about books to nominate…or start writing that great New York City novel!
If you are interested in learning more or submitting a recommendation for the award, go to: www.gothambookprize.org.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and also What’s in It for Us podcast.