The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced during a virtual ceremony today. Among the winners in 14 categories were short story writer Deesha Philyaw, journalist Isabel Wilkerson, poet Victoria Chang, biographer William Souder and French novelist David Diop. Stephen Graham Jones won the second Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction.
For the second consecutive year, the prizes — which traditionally kick off the The Times’ weekend-long Festival of Books — were awarded without an IRL event due to the pandemic.
Philyaw, whose debut short story collection “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” was a National Book Award finalist and won the PEN/Faulkner award, took home the Art Seidenbaum Award for first fiction. She will join authors Ben Okri, Carribean Fragoza and Shruti Swamy on April 23 for a Book Fest panel about short stories.
Judges called the book “a remarkable debut collection of stories [that] is fiercely Black and beautiful,” which “linger in the mind long after we read them… It announces a powerful new voice on the literary landscape and we can’t wait to read what Philyaw writes next.”
Wilkerson was awarded the current interest prize for “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” a powerful study about America’s age-old caste system that became a bestseller in the wake of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
“In exploring the [caste] concept, which has forever shaped our nation’s fate, Wilkerson blends stellar reporting and scholarship with lived experience to write the rare book that can recast a reader’s perceptions permanently,” judges said.
In the fiction category, Diop won for “At Night All Blood is Black: A Novel,” translated by Anna Moschovakis.
“Dark, gruesome, vivid, utterly compelling, ‘At Night All Blood is Black,’ a war story of racism, colonialism, violence, fear, and madness, is ultimately about the power of storytelling and how stories get told (or very often don’t),” judges said. “Diop is a master craftsman, a deep thinker, and a beautiful writer… we have never read anything like him. And Anna Maschovakis’ translation is superb.”
Of Chang’s “Obit,” winner in the poetry category, judges said her “innovative poetic obituaries speak to us in a startling way about death and loss with surprising, sometimes surreal juxtapositions of image that never let the riveted reader settle into one groove.” Especially timely during a pandemic, they continued, “This is a book of hard-won, pressing truths and lived experience that hits the bull’s-eye repeatedly.”
The prize for mystery/thriller went to S.A. Cosby for “Blacktop Wasteland,” a story about a young family man pushed to the edge by poverty, racism and his previous life of crime. Set in Virginia, the novel “looks at how a family’s struggles with cash are exacerbated by a financial downtown,” judges said. “Cosby’s noir story reflects concerns of the 21st century through a gripping plot accented by fully fleshed out characters with realistic motives.”
In history, Martha S. Jones took the prize for “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.”
“Starting in the early years of the republic, Jones introduces us to the unsung heroes of our nation who spoke and wrote in support of equality long before the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848,” the judges said. “Their stories stand as a reminder that creating a democracy takes constant and heroic effort. Without these women who stood at the vanguard, this nation would not be what it is today. Beautifully written and rivetingly told, this story recasts the political and intellectual history of the U.S. in a way that illuminates both the present and the future.”
Previously announced winners were also celebrated during the ceremony: the Book Industry Charitable Foundation for its Innovator’s Award; Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko for the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement; and Andrew O’Hagan, winner of the Christopher Isherwood Prize for autobiographical prose for his coming-of-age novel “Mayflies.”
“In a classically shaped story based on events in his own life, Andrew O’Hagan masterfully captures a particular time and place: Glasgow during the 1980s, with its post-punk music and the Thatcher era,” the judges said of “Mayflies.” “In keeping with the legacy of Christopher Isherwood, Andrew O’Hagan’s prose is accessible and engaging, distinctive and original. Funny, well-paced and elegant, ‘Mayflies’ is a striking achievement in the career of its author, and the judges universally agreed that this novel was a superior and satisfying work of fiction in every single way.”
Below is the full list of 2020 winners:
- Innovator’s Award: Book Industry Charitable Foundation
- Robert Kirsch Award: Leslie Marmon Silko
- The Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose: Andrew O’Hagan, “Mayflies”
- Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: Deesha Philyaw, “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”
- The Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction: Stephen Graham Jones, “The Only Good Indians”
- Biography: William Souder, “Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck”
- Current Interest: Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”
- Fiction: David Diop (translator Anna Moschovakis), “At Night All Blood is Black: A Novel”
- Graphic Novel/Comics: Bishakh Som, “Apsara Engine”
- History: Martha S. Jones, “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All”
- Mystery/Thriller: S.A. Cosby, “Blacktop Wasteland”
- Poetry: Victoria Chang, “Obit”
- Science & Technology: Sara Seager, “The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir”
- Young Adult Literature: Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi, “Punching the Air”