The Maya Angelou Book Award reading committee has selected four finalists for the second annual award, which is presented by the Kansas City Public Library, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and five other universities in the state.
The spotlighted works include two acclaimed debut novels and another by a decorated author whose bibliography counts more than 30 novels and short stories. The fourth finalist already has claimed a National Book Award.
The list, chosen from a field of more than 100 submissions:
- The Trees by Percival Everett. Everett addresses racism and police violence in this murder mystery revolving around a series of unsettling killings in Money, Mississippi, the site of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. It was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize and selected as a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. Everett, a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, is a recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, among other honors.
- Hell of a Book by Jason Mott. In a surrealistic story of an author on a book tour, Mott offers a gripping meditation on being Black in America that earned him the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. Mott’s first novel, the bestselling The Returned, was adapted into a television series that ran for two seasons on ABC (as Resurrection). A native and still-resident of rural North Carolina, he has written a total of four novels and two collections of poetry.
- An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon. Papillon’s first novel, about a Nigerian boy’s secret intersex identity and his desire to live as a girl, “highlights the limiting dangers of the gender binary, while also reminding us of the power storytelling has to help us envision a more expansive and inclusive world,” The New York Times says. Born in Nigeria, Papillon earned a law degree in England and an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She now lives in Boston.
- The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade. Valdez Quade, an assistant professor of creative writing at Princeton University, focuses her debut novel on the first year of life for a baby born into a New Mexico family that spans five generations. It has earned the Center for Fiction’s 2021 First Novel Prize and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for literature and was a finalist for the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, among other honors.
The Maya Angelou Book Award winner will be announced at the annual Writers for Readers event Wednesday, November 16, 2022, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The recipient receives $10,000 and conducts a book tour of the participating universities.
Named for acclaimed, Missouri-born memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, the prize celebrates contemporary writers whose work demonstrates their commitment to social justice. It alternates annually between poetry and fiction, going this year to the author of a work of fiction.
The award was established in 2020 by the Kansas City Public Library, UMKC, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University, and Northwest Missouri State, Truman State, and Southeast Missouri State universities.