Raven Leilani

Raven Leilani’s novel Luster was announced the winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award on July 2, 2021.

The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, handed out by the Virginia Commonwealth University, honours an outstanding debut novel published during the preceding calendar year. It is named for U.S. writer James Branch Cabell, who achieved fame in the early twentieth century. The award is a tribute to writers who have navigated their way through the maze of imagination and delivered a great read, taking the reader someplace new. The award, worth US$5,000, has been worn by John Englehardt, Ling Ma, Hernán Diaz, Jade Chang, and Angela Flournoy.

For 2021, over 200 novels were submitted and a university wide panel of readers, in addition to members of the Richmond community, reduced the submissions to a Top 20 Long List. From there, the Long List was considered by the M.F.A. in Creative Writing students, who further narrowed the submissions to first a Top 10 Short List and then to three finalists. The final round of judging included the M.F.A. students, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Committee and the winner of the previous year’s award.

The winner of the prize is Raven Leilani’s Luster, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which tells the story of Edie, a 23-year-old Black woman and aspiring artist, who after losing her job finds herself living with her much older lover, his enigmatic wife and their adopted daughter.

It’s a good year for Leilani’s Luster which has won the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the Kirkus Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Leilani will receive the award during a public moderated discussion and Q&A in November. Details of the event and additional materials will be made available here.