Twin Cities writer Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2017 Kirkus Prize for Fiction for her debut collection, “What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky.” The prize carries an award of $50,000. Arimah grew up in Nigeria and moved to Mankato in 2010, where she earned her MFA. She now teaches at the University of Minnesota and serves as a mentor at the Loft Literary Center. In September, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. Her book is also a finalist for the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize (to be announced Friday).
Arimah’s book was chosen over novels by National Book Award-winners Jesmyn Ward and Alice McDermott, as well as 2017 National Book Award finalist Carmen Maria Machado, whose collection “Her Body and Other Parties” was published by Graywolf Press of Minneapolis.
Other finalists include "White Tears" by Hari Kunzru, and "Exit West," by Mohsin Hamid, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
In nonfiction, the winner was Jack E. Davis for "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea." Runners-up were Edward Dolnick's "The Seeds of Life"; Patricia Lockwood's memoir "Priestdaddy"; Valeria Luiselli's "Tell Me How it Ends" (published by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press); "The Cooking Gene," by Michael Twitty; and "Henry David Thoreau: A Life," by Laura Dassow Walls.
And the children's literature winner was "The Marrow Thieves," by Cherie Dimaline. Finalists were "Walk With Me," by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng and translated by Elisa Amado; "Me Tall, You Small," by Lilli L'Arronge and translated by Madeleine Stratford; "Bronze and Sunflower," by Cao Wenxuan, ranslated by Helen Wang and illustrated by Meilo So; "It All Comes Down to This," by Karen English; and "The Hate U Give," by Angie Thomas.
Books must have received a starred review in Kirkus in order to be considered for the prize.
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A Star Tribune "artist of the year" and a former Minnesotan, Arimah has been a finalist for the prize twice before.