Arts and Entertainment

Sarah Mirk's 'Guantanamo Voices' wins 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize

“Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World's Most Infamous Prison” edited by Sarah Mirk and published by Abrams ComicArts has won the 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize. Jurors called this book “a solid example of graphic journalism that gives a voice to the lives touched by the Guantanamo Bay prison, from prisoners and lawyers to social workers and military officers. Credit: Abrams ComicArts, PublisherAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World's Most Infamous Prison” edited by Sarah Mirk and published by Abrams ComicArts has won the 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize. Penn State University Libraries sponsors the juried award and its administrator, the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.

Jurors called this book “a solid example of graphic journalism that gives a voice to the lives touched by the Guantanamo Bay prison, from prisoners and lawyers to social workers and military officers. The stories — of those tortured by the American justice system or on the “wrong side” of the government’s agenda — are nuanced, not setting up a clear good and evil but instead laying out the details in an honest and thought-provoking, sometimes shocking and often haunting way. Each narrative was created from first-hand interviews and illustrated by a separate artist. The unique styles of each artist create a purposefully jarring effect that keeps the reader unsettled and engaged emphasizing the individuality and humanity represented in each story. Mirk and her team of artists beautifully and painfully bring these stories out of the shadows to remind readers of the cruel and indiscriminate acts of rushing to justice by the American judicial system.”

Sarah Mirk will receive a $2,500 prize and, courtesy of the Library of America, the two-volume set of "Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts" at a forthcoming event.

“Dragon Hoops” by Gene Luen Yang, First Second Books, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group; and “Welcome to the New World” by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, Henry Holt and Company/Metropolitan Books/Macmillan Publishers have been named 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize honor books.

In “Dragon Hoops,” said the jury, “Yang presents the tale of Bishop O’Dowd’s High School boys’ basketball team and its journey to the California State Championships in 2014-15 under head coach Lou Richie. Yang’s perspective as a teacher at the school and student of the sport are key elements of his excellent storytelling. His quest to understand why basketball has such an emotional impact on a school and community leads him and his readers to wonderful discoveries. As he explores his own relationship with basketball, the rich history of the sport, and the experiences of various characters, Yang does not shy away from complexity, including references to ways sports have crossed boundaries into politics, brought together people from various cultures and backgrounds despite racism, and wrestled with their own scandals. ‘Dragon Hoops’ is the heartfelt story of the commitment these kids and their coaches have for each other and to their sport. Basketball fans and nonfans alike will find themselves immersed in this smart and engaging novel.”

About “Welcome to the New World” the jury wrote, “Following one refugee family’s journey from Syria to the United States as Donald Trump was elected to the White House, this story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. The reader is given a first-hand and personal perspective of the overwhelming sense of change and upheaval a refugee family experiences from leaving their country to becoming settled in the United States. Halpern and Sloan were able to balance the fear and humiliation this family felt with moments of warmth and humor. Halpern’s deep dive into this family’s experience makes it a smart and humanizing piece of journalism while Sloan’s simple, yet evocative illustrations bring that story to life for readers while also leaving space for readers to imagine how the characters’ experiences are not unique to these individuals. If you have never known the challenges, sense of isolation, adventure, and risk of the immigrant experience, this is the perfect place to begin your lesson.”

The Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize is presented annually to the best graphic novel, fiction or nonfiction, published in the previous calendar year by a living U.S. or Canadian citizen or resident. It honors Ward's influence in the development of the graphic novel and celebrates the gift of an extensive collection of Ward’s wood engravings, original book illustrations and other graphic art donated to Penn State’s University Libraries by his daughters Robin Ward Savage and Nanda Weedon Ward. Between 1929 and 1937, Ward published his six groundbreaking wordless novels: "Gods' Man," "Madman’s Drum," "Wild Pilgrimage," "Prelude to a Million Years," "Song without Words" and "Vertigo."

The Lynd Ward Graphic Novel selection jury includes representatives who have significant graphic novel expertise. Here are the 2021 jurors:

Karen M. Lambert has been a librarian in the adult department at Schlow Centre Region Library since 2010. She evaluates print and online published trade reviews, and purchases and maintains graphic novel collections for the teen and adult libraries. She is also a co-coordinator of BookFestPA, which promotes local comic book creators and illustrators.

Charlotte Land is an assistant professor of education with an emphasis on language and literacy studies at Penn State University. Her research and teaching focus on reading and writing at the intermediate and secondary grade levels. Part of her work on critical and culturally sustaining literacy teaching has included thinking with teachers and young people about expanding definitions of “what counts” as quality literature or writing. She has also had the pleasure of working with various groups of young people in creating graphic novels/comics of their own.

C. Victoria McCrary is an undergraduate student at Penn State and a passionate reader, creator, and game designer. Her love for the arts began at an early age and continues to refine throughout her educational journey.

John Shableski is a publishing industry veteran who has created grant programs, industry awards, and graphic novel-centric professional development programs for national and international trade shows, conferences, and conventions. He currently serves as president of Reading with Pictures, an organization dedicated to getting "comics into schools and schools into comics." His ultimate objective is to help struggling students discover their joy of reading.

Co-sponsors of this award are the Penn State University Libraries; Library Learning Services; the Eberly Family Special Collections Library; the Department of English in the College of the Liberal Arts; and the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State University.

The Pennsylvania Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, promotes libraries and literacy, and encourages Pennsylvania's citizens and residents to read, study, and celebrate books. In addition to the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, it also administers the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award; Public Poetry Project; A Baker’s Dozen: The Best Children’s Books for Family Literacy; Poems from Life; Wordstruck; and the interactive Literary & Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania.

For more information about the selection criteria and how to submit books to be considered for the 2022 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, contact Ellysa Cahoy at or 814-865-9696, or visit the Pennsylvania Center for the Book's website.

Last Updated April 26, 2021