Prizes kick off the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Marilynne Robinson took the top fiction prize Friday for her novel “Home,” and Barton Gellman the current interest award for his book on Dick Cheney’s vice presidency at the 29th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.

Robert Alter, a UC Berkeley professor and author of 22 works on the Bible, literary modernism and contemporary Hebrew literature, had earlier been named the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award, given annually to a living author “with a substantial connection to the American West.”

The awards, celebrating books in nine categories, kicked off the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books; the festival will continue through Sunday at UCLA. The awards ceremony moved back to The Times’ downtown building after a decade-long stint at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

In his opening remarks, David L. Ulin, Times book editor, said it was a time of “extreme transition” and even crisis for both newspapers and book publishing, but found hope in the idea that “reading isn’t going anywhere.”


It was a theme echoed by other presenters and awardees.

Gellman, a Washington Post reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Cheney vice presidency, thanked readers “for thronging to a festival of books and people who love them.”

He also told the audience that he had initially “tried . . . to dodge” the task of writing about Cheney but carried on after repeated nudges from his editor. “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency” was published by the Penguin Press.

Also nominated in his category were “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century” by Steve Coll (Penguin Press); “The Forever War” by Dexter Filkins (Alfred A. Knopf); “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals” by Jane Mayer (Doubleday); and “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor (Viking).


In a review of Robinson’s novel, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, writer Emily Barton praised its “dignified prose” that “delineates wonderfully vibrant, complex characters.” She added: “If I cannot do ‘Home’ justice in describing it, I can, at least, commend it to you with my whole heart.”

Other nominees for fiction were “The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Barry (Viking); “Lush Life” by Richard Price (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); “The Size of the World” by Joan Silber (W.W. Norton); and “The God of War” by Marisa Silver (Simon & Schuster).

Each Book Prize carries a $1,000 award. Other winners:

Biography: Paula J. Giddings, “Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching” (Amistad/Harper Collins)

Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: Zoe Ferraris, “Finding Nouf” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

History: Mark Mazower, “Hitler’s Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe” (Penguin Press)

Mystery/Thriller: Michael Koryta, “Envy the Night” (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur)

Poetry: Frank Bidart, “Watching the Spring Festival: Poems” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Science & Technology: Leonard Susskind, “The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics” (Little, Brown and Co.)

Young Adult Literature: Terry Pratchett, “Nation” (HarperCollins)



All weekend long

The L.A. Times Festival of Books continues at UCLA. Go online for more information about the free event and to share your own experiences.