Laura Jean McKay Wins the 2021 Arthur C. Clarke Award

Laura Jean McKay Wins the 2021 Arthur C. Clarke Award
Image: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Arthur C. Clarke Award has announced this year’s winner of the award: debut novelist Laura Jean McKay, for her book The Animals in that Country. This year marks the thirty-fifth year of the award, and according to the award’s director Tom Hunter, her win “repositions the boundaries of science fiction once again, and we’re delighted to welcome her to the genre.”

McKay’s book has already earned considerable accolades: It has won the 2021 Victorian Prize for Literature, the 2021 Victorian Primer’s Literary Awards Prize for Fiction, and was named a book of the year by Slate and the Sunday Times.

It follows a caustic grandmother named Jean who gets along better with animals than her fellow people, except for her granddaughter, Kimberly. Everything changes when the world is hit by a pandemic; one of the symptoms of the new disease is that people begin to understand the languages of animals. When her son is infected and he takes Kimberly with him, Jean follows with her dingo, Sue.

In a statement, McKay says that she borrowed her title from one of Margaret Atwood’s poetry collections, and notes “That this book could become one of the Clarke award winners alongside Atwood – as well as other writers I adore like Miéville and Whitehead – is a momentous honour. I wrote The Animals in That Country to look closely at the relationship between humans and other animals. In these strange times, I find that (more than ever) reading and writing connects us humans as well.”

For her win, McKay will earn a prize of £2021, as well as a trophy in the form of an engraved bookend.

Because of the pandemic, this year’s award wasn’t announced during a live ceremony as is typical, but live on BB4 Radio during the show Front Row, hosted by journalist and science fiction fan Samira Ahmed.

McKay joins other notable science fiction authors who’ve earned the Arthur C. Clarke Award: last year’s winner was Namwali Serpell, for her book The Old Drift, while Tade Thompson earned the award in 2019 for his novel Rosewater. This year’s nominees included The Infinite by Patience Agbabi, The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu, Edge of Heaven by R.B. Kelly, and Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes. The full list of books that were submitted for consideration can be found here.

The award is handed out annually to a book published in the UK in the prior year, and is deliberated on by a panel of judges. This year’s panel was comprised of Stewart Hotston, Alasdair Stuart, Phoenix Alexander, Nicole Devarenne, Nick Hubble, and Dr. Andrew M. Butler