National Institute on Aging

Virginia Commonwealth University’s First Novelist Award Given to Raven Leilani

Raven Leilani, who has served as an Axinn Foundation Writer-in-Residence at New York University, is the recipient of the 2021 Cabell First Novelist Award given by the creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University. The award, now in its 20th year, honors an outstanding debut novel published during the preceding calendar year.

Her winning book, Luster (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), tells the story of Edie, a 23-year-old Black woman and aspiring artist, who after losing her job finds herself living in an open marriage with her much older lover, his enigmatic wife, and their adopted daughter. it was selected as the winner from more than 200 entries. The award includes a $5,000 prize.

The book has received widespread critical acclaim. It 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. The New York Times praised the novel as “so delicious it feels illicit.” And National Public Radio called it “a novel that shines with a distinctive darkness.”

Leilani holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from New York University, where she studied with Zadie Smith.


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