Chain-Gang All-Stars

Finalist, National Book Awards 2023 for Fiction

ISBN 9780593317334
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House
author photo of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. (Photo caption: Alex M. Philip)
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is the New York Times-bestselling author of Friday Black. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly-popular, highly-controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom.

In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, she considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games, but CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.

Moving from the Links in the field to the protestors to the CAPE employees and beyond, Chain-Gang All-Stars is a kaleidoscopic, excoriating look at the American prison system’s unholy alliance of systemic racism, unchecked capitalism, and mass incarceration, and a clear-eyed reckoning with what freedom in this country really means.

Judges Citation

Drawing inspiration from the brutality of both the gladiator arenas of ancient Rome and modern professional sports, Chain-Gang All-Stars is a fusion of action, social commentary, and literary grace. This inspired tale shines light on the inhumanity of our carceral system in a way only fiction can, displaying the complex intersections of race and gender, of entertainment and morality. In an evocative and immersive style, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah keeps readers on the edge of their seats as they bear witness to a relentless battle against systemic oppression and humanity’s worst impulses, eagerly anticipating the fate of these resilient characters.


Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah at the 2023 National Book Awards Finalist Reading