For the first time in three years, writers, editors, journalists and bibliophiles gathered Friday night at USC’s Bovard Auditorium for a live, in-person ceremony to unveil the winners of the 42nd Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.
Clad in dresses, blazers and more casual attire, they watched as novelist Véronique Tadjo, poet Diane Seuss, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, bestselling author Paul Auster and others accepted awards for outstanding literary works published last year. The annual event, which kicks off the Festival of Books, celebrates the best of the written word, from new and emerging voices to authors celebrating a lifetime of contributions to literary culture.
Poets Tyehimba Jess, Cyrus Cassells and Adriana Ramirez also took to the stage throughout the night to read poetry by Seuss, Rita Dove, CM Burroughs, Martín Espada and Mai Der Vang.
The event was hosted by Julia Turner, Times managing editor of arts and entertainment, and featured remarks by Executive Editor Kevin Merida, books editor Boris Kachka and many others.
“Books are a gateway to possibility,” Merida said in his opening remarks. “They help us dream and think, love and laugh, and cry when we need to. Books power our imagination, taking us to distant places, ancient kingdoms, to planets not yet discovered. Those of us who write them, which is to say all of our finalists and others in this auditorium, help us see the world and one another more clearly… so thank you writers for your gift, for the time and genius you put into your craft .”
Jackie Polzin took home the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for her novel “Brood,” about a woman’s efforts to keep her chickens alive after a recent loss. “Brood” was shortlisted for the 2021 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, among others. Judges praised Polzin for offering “something very rare in life or art: the feeling of life itself, of being alive, being cared for and caring for life.”
Zen Cho won the Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction with “Spirits Abroad,” a story collection that weaves between the lands of the living and the dead. Judges commended the stories for their imagination, tenderness, joy and play. “During the past two years, for many of us, the world has felt harder than ever to exist in,” they said in a citation. “’Spirits Abroad’ gave this judging panel a much-needed adventure.”
Schiff (D-Burbank) was awarded the current interest prize for “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could,” an inside look at Donald Trump’s presidency and the Republicans who enabled him. Judges called Schiff’s personal narrative “brilliant, sobering, and unforgettable.”
The fiction prize went to Tadjo, whose novel “In the Company of Men” was inspired by real accounts of the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa. The book “is unlike anything we’ve ever read,” judges said, calling it “gripping and prescient.”
In poetry, Seuss won for her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning “frank: sonnets,” an “allusive, haunting, kaleidoscopic, and life-encompassing” collection according to the judges’ panel. Megan Abbott won the mystery/thriller award for “The Turnout,” a creepy tale of competition and family ties.
Ada Ferrer received the history prize for “Cuba: An American History,” a sweeping chronicle of the island nation and its complex relationship to the United States, and Auster, better known for his cerebral novels, took home the biography award for “Burning Boy : The Life and Work of Stephen Crane,” about the short-lived American author of “The Red Badge of Courage.”
In the graphic novel/comics category, R. Kikuo Johnson won for “No One Else,” a story that captures a family in the aftermath of loss. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein was honored in the science-and-technology category for “The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred,” which lays out a more inclusive approach to studying science and examining its impact on society.
Rita Williams-Garcia won in young-adult literature for “A Sitting in St. James,” which weaves among the lives of people living on a plantation before the American Civil War.
Also celebrated were three previously announced honorees: Luis J. Rodriguez, “the poet laureate of the barrio” and recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement; Deborah Levy, winner of the Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose for her memoir “Real Estate: A Living Autobiography”; and Reginald Dwayne Betts, who took home the Innovator’s Award for his work from him with Freedom Reads, an organization that supports reading in prisons.
See the full list of finalists below.
John Tresch, “The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science”
Mark Harris, “Mike Nichols: A Life”
Nick Davis, “Competing With Idiots: Herman and Joe Mankiewicz, A Dual Portrait”
Paul Auster, “Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane”
Rebecca Donner, “All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler”
Claire Vaye Watkins, “I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness”
Joy Williams, “Harrow”
Mariana Enriquez, “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,” translated by Megan McDowell
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, “American Estrangement”
Veronique Tadjo, “In the Company of Men”
Ann Xu and Hiromi Goto, “Shadow Life”
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, “The Waiting,” translated by Janet Hong
Lee Lai, “Stone Fruit”
Michael DeForge, “Heaven No Hell”
R. Kikuo Johnson, “No One Else”
Ada Ferrer, “Cuba: An American History”
Alaina E. Roberts, “I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land”
Mae Ngai, “The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics”
Mia Bay, “Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance”
Olivette Otele, “African Europeans: An Untold History”
Alison Gaylin, “The Collective”
Megan Abbott, “The Turnout”
Michael Connelly, “The Dark Hours”
SA Cosby, “Razorblade Tears”
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Velvet Was the Night”
C.M. Burroughs, “Master Suffering”
Diane Seuss, “Frank: Sonnets”
Mai Der Vang, “Yellow Rain”
Martin Espada, “Floaters”
Rita Dove, “Playlist for the Apocalypse”
science and technology
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, “The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred”
Emma Marris, “Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World”
Katharine Hayhoe, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World”
Meghan O’Gieblyn, “God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor and the Search for Meaning”
Scott Weidensaul, “A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds”
The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
Benjamin Labatut, “When We Cease to Understand the World,” translated by Adrian Nathan West
Jackie Polzin, “Brood”
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, “My Monticello”
Natasha Brown, “Assembly”
Thomas Grattan, “The Recent East”
The Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction
Mariana Enriquez, “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,” translated by Megan McDowell
Marissa Levien, “The World Gives Way”
Rivers Solomon, “Sorrowland”
Ryka Aoki, “Light From Uncommon Stars”
Zen Cho, “Spirits Abroad”
Young adult literature
Darcie Little Badger, “A Snake Falls to Earth”
Kekla Magoon, “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther’s Promise to the People”
Malinda Lo, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club”
Paula Yoo, “From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement”
Rita Williams-Garcia, “A Sitting in St. James”
Andrea Elliott, “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City”
Heather McGhee, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together”
Reuben Jonathan Miller, “Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration”
Evan Osnos, “Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury”
Adam Schiff, “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could”