McBride beat out nine other finalists for the award. Three of those finalists received honorable mentions: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, Luster by Raven Leilani, and You Again by Debra Jo Immergut.
Deacon King Kong was one of the best reviewed books of 2020, and was a Kirkus Prize finalist and an Oprah’s Book Club selection. A reviewer for Kirkus called the novel “an exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.”
Philanthropists Bradley Tusk and Howard Wolfson established the Gotham Book Prize last year with the goal of supporting authors during the Covid-19 pandemic. The award comes with a $50,000 cash prize. Both fiction and nonfiction books are eligible for the prize, though only two nonfiction titles—Jerry Seinfeld’s Is This Anything? and David Paul Kuhn’s The Hardhat Riot—were named finalists this year.
“James McBride’s novel so perfectly embodies the essence of our city right now, reminding us that in hardship there is hope and love for each other and our communities,” Tusk and Wolfson said in a statement. “We hope this prize continues to inspire novelists to write about what makes our city so special so it continues to be a place where people all over the world dream of living or visiting one day.”
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.