American author Kevin Powers's debut novel, The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown, 2012), a fictional account of one man's experiences during the Iraq war, has received the 2012 Guardian First Book Award. Powers will receive ten thousand British pounds.
Inspired by Powers’s own experiences as a machine gunner in Iraq, The Yellow Birds takes its name from a marching song that Powers learned while serving in the army. Lisa Allardice, judging panel chair and editor of the Guardian Review, reported that Powers “utterly fulfilled the first book award criteria of promise, originality and raw talent.” Allardice was joined on a panel of judges by authors Ahdaf Soueif, Kate Summerscale, William Dalrymple, and Jeanette Winterson, and Guardian deputy editor Katharine Viner.
Powers was chosen from a shortlist that included two other debut novels, Scottish author Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (Chatto & Windus, 2012) and American novelist Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding (Little, Brown, 2011), as well as two works of nonfiction—Lindsey Hilsum's account of the Libyan revolution, Sandstorm (Penguin Press, 2012) and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House, 2012), which won the National Book Award in nonfiction in November.
Established in 1999 by the editors of the U.K.-based Guardian, the annual First Book Award is given for a debut work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction published in the previous year. Powers joins an international cast of winners that includes Siddhartha Mukherjee, who received the award last year for The Emperor of All Maladies (Fourth Estate, 2011), as well as Philip Gourevitch, Yiyun Li, Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith, and Chris Ware.
For more information about the Guardian First Book Award, visit the website. To listen to a discussion from the judges about this year's shortlist and an interview with Kevin Powers about his winning novel, check out this podcast from the Guardian.