The 2021 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature will be presented next April to Barbara Kingsolver (pictured above) who lives on a farm in rural Washington County, Virginia. Last year’s winner was Ron Rash, and the year before went to Fred Chappell. The 2013 winner was Lee Smith.
There are so many outstanding books that are set almost entirely in the Southern Appalachian Region or feature characters primarily molded by our region, that I cannot cover books partially set here. But my readers may well want to know that one of the most honored books of 2021 featured the Great Smoky Mountains as a locale that was key, though not predominant. Bewilderment by Richard Powers was a New York Times best-seller, an Oprah Book Club selection, and a book assessed as “notable” and “best book” often and both shortlisted and longlisted for prestigious awards.
Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson is one of five books nominated for the 53rd Annual NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry, and is one of eight that Orion Magazine listed in “New Year: New Poetry: Eight Fresh Poetry Recommendations for 2022.
My Monticello Jocelyn Nicole Johnson is one of six finalists for the John Leonard Prize given to a first book by the National Book Critics Circle. It was also named one of the Top 10 Southern Books of 2021 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and number 3 in Time magazine’s Ten Best Fiction Books of 2021.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd has been named a Notable Children’s Book – 2022 - by the Association for Library Service to Children and it was a 2022 Illustrator Honor Book by the Coretta Scot King Awards for its illustrations by Christian Robinson.
Both Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd and In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner are included in the special edition of Publishers Weekly for those Children’s Books they gave starred reviews to in 2021.
Following an annual custom, The Millions chose twelve prominent authors to write a few words about their year in reading. Of the twelve, they chose two Appalachians, Anjali Enjeti, a woman from an immigrant family who grew up in Detroit and then Chattanooga and now teaches at Reinhardt University in North Georgia and Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, an African American public-school art teacher in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Mesha Maren, who grew up in Alderson, West Virginia, is one of eight authors highlighted by Leigh Haber, Hamilton Cain, Wadzanai Mhute, and Joshunda Sanders in an article entitled “Lit Up” in Oprah Daily. The subtitle characterizes the authors they profile as “forces for good.”