Raven Leilani Wins VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

July 6, 2021

Raven Leilani headshot and Luster book coverRaven Leilani has won the 2021 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during the preceding calendar year. Her winning book, Luster, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 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.

Leilani will receive the award during a moderated public discussion and Q&A in November. Details of the event and additional materials will be made available at www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/event/.

Leilani was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its twentieth year. The other finalists were Bryan Washington for Memorial and C. Pam Zhang for How Much of These Hills is Gold.

For more information about Leilani and her award-winning book, please see the recent article in VCU News.

Over two hundred novels were submitted for this year’s prize. A university-wide panel of readers, in addition to members of the Richmond community, reduced the submissions to a top twenty long list. From there, the long list was considered by MFA in Creative Writing students, who further narrowed the submissions to first a top ten shot list list and then to three finalists. The final round of judging included the MFA students, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Committee, and the winner of the previous year’s award.

In addition to Leilani, previous winners of the award have included: John Englehardt for Bloomland, Ling Ma for Severance, Hernán Diaz for In the Distance, Jade Chang for The Wangs vs. the World, and Angela Flournoy for The Turner House. A full list of winners can be found at www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/winners/.

The 2022 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is soon to announce a call for submissions for debut novels published in 2021, with a final submission deadline of December 30, 2021. For more information, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu.