The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes to Honor Luis J. Rodriguez and Reginald Dwayne Betts

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The awards recognize outstanding literary achievements in 12 categories, with winners to be announced on April 22 during the Book Prizes awards ceremony at USC’s Bovard Auditorium


The Los Angeles Times today announced the finalists and honorees of the 42nd annual Book Prizes. Luis J. Rodriguez will be honored with the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, Reginald Dwayne Betts will receive the Innovator’s Award and Deborah Levy will be presented with the Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose. The literary awards champion new voices and celebrate the highest quality of writing from authors at all stages of their careers. Winners will be announced at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Friday, April 22, in a prologue to the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The festival, which is the nation’s largest in-person literary event, will return to the USC campus during the weekend of April 23-24.

Celebrated poet, memoirist and essayist Luis J. Rodriguez will receive the 2021 Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, which recognizes a writer whose work focuses on the American West. Rodriguez is a major figure in Chicano literature and is known for his youth and arts advocacy work across the country.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to honor L.A. writer Luis J. Rodriguez with this year’s Kirsch Award,” said Times Books Editor Boris Kachka. “Luis wrote his way out of poverty and pain – through poetry, memoir, essays, fiction and journalism. Over the decades, he has used his craft to advocate for youth lost to gang life, to promote peace in our communities, and to bring people together in this chaotic world.”


Some of Rodriguez’s acclaimed works include the best-selling memoir “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A,” the poetry book “Borrowed Bones” and his first book of essays, “From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys & Imaginings from a Native Xicanx Writer.” Rodriguez has received accolades throughout his writing career, including the Carl Sandburg Literary Award and a Lannan Fellowship for Poetry, and he was named the Los Angeles Poet Laureate in 2014.

The 2021 Innovator’s Award will be presented to Reginald Dwayne Betts, poet, founding director of Freedom Reads and 2021 MacArthur Fellow. The award, which spotlights efforts to bring books, publishing and storytelling into the future, will honor Betts for his work advocating for literacy in prisons through increasing access to books, writers and performing artists.

“We are delighted to recognize Reginald Dwayne Betts and Freedom Reads as this year’s Innovator’s Award winner,” said Julia Turner, Deputy Managing Editor for Arts and Entertainment. “Betts has written powerfully about the role of books and reading in navigating his own prison experience. In its mission to bring books directly into the lives of the incarcerated, Freedom Reads offers readers a gateway to the transformative power of literature.”

Freedom Reads is a nonprofit organization that brings curated libraries to 1,000 prisons and juvenile detention centers across the country. The project offers books as both a resource and a symbol of freedom, restoring hope, dignity, meaning and purpose to those who are incarcerated.

Deborah Levy is the winner of the 2021 Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose for her vibrant memoir “Real Estate: A Living Autobiography.” Sponsored by the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the award encompasses fiction, travel writing, memoir and diary and honors exceptional work.

In selecting Levy as the recipient of the Isherwood Prize, the judges’ commented, “This ‘living autobiography’ (so subtitled), the third in a series, breathes deep on its own. Levy gorgeously wrestles with place, people, art, and work to create a funny, wise, and affecting self-portrait of a person much in the middle of discovering who she was, is, and hopes to be.”


The Book Prizes recognize 56 remarkable works in 12 categories: autobiographical prose (the Christopher Isherwood Prize), biography, current interest, fiction, first fiction (the Art Seidenbaum Award), graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science fiction (the Ray Bradbury Prize), science and technology, and young adult literature. Judging panels of writers who specialize in each genre select finalists and winners. The complete list of finalists and further information, including past winners, is available at Winners will be announced during the Book Prizes ceremony on Friday, April 22. Tickets to attend the Book Prizes ceremony go on sale March 16 via the Festival of Books website.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is presented in association with USC. Festival news and updates are available on the event website, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram (#bookfest).