Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom has been longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. A panel of five judges chaired by Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo made the announcement for the £30,000 award.
Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty, a young woman pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Gifty’s story expands and becomes her family’s, too; we meet Nana, her brother who died by overdosing on heroin, and her mother, who is suicidal. A follow-up to her first novel Homegoing, it became a New York Times bestseller and was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award.
It has been described by The Boston Globe as “an expansive meditation on grief, religion, and family.” Sam Sacks, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called it “[l]aser-like… [a novel] burningly dedicated to the question of meaning… The pressure created gives her novel a hard, beautiful, diamantine luster.”
Six of the 15 other books on the longlist are debuts: Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, the first trans woman to be longlisted; Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan; Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, a book previously shortlisted for the Booker Prize; How the One-Armed Woman Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones; No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood; and, yes, Raven Leilani’s Luster.
The British actress and writer Dawn French, the oldest novelist on the list at 63, is up for her funny novel Because of You. Previous winner Ali Smith returns with the fourth and last novel in her seasonal quartet, Summer.
Due to the lockdown, the judges discussed the longlist via Zoom. “Our imaginations have been able to roam through fiction, in so many wonderful ways,” said Evaristo. “From my reading, I would say that women’s fiction is really thriving.”
Commenting on Transcendent Kingdom, one of the judges Vick Hope said, “[It] had me in tears, wailing, the most emotional I’ve felt after reading a book, for a long, long time.”
On 28 April 2021, a shortlist of 6 novels will be announced. On 7 July, the winner will be announced.
Maggie O’Farrell won the prize last year for Hamnet. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won it in 2007 for Half of a Yellow Sun; last year she won its “Winner of Winners” prize.