L.A. Times Book Prize finalists include Michelle Obama and Susan Orlean; Terry Tempest Williams receives lifetime achievement award

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The finalists for the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced Wednesday, with Michelle Obama, Susan Orlean, Michael Ondaatje and Terrance Hayes among the nominees for the annual literary awards.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on April 12, the day before the start of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Nominated books this year include former First Lady Obama’s memoir “Becoming” in the current interest category, where it will compete with Orlean’s “The Library Book” and Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk,” among others. The fiction finalists include Ondaatje’s “Warlight,” along with Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers” and Tayari Jones’ “An American Marriage.”


Other notable books to be nominated this year are Tara Westover’s “Educated” in the biography category; Tommy Orange’s “There There” in first fiction; Miriam Pawel’s “The Browns of California” in history; Megan Abbott’s “Give Me Your Hand” in mystery/thriller; and Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X” in young adult literature.

The winners of three special awards were also announced. The Robert Kirsch Award, a lifetime achievement prize given to a writer with a substantial connection to the American West, will go to Terry Tempest Williams, a nature writer and environmental activist whose most recent book, “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks,” was published in 2016.

“Following a year of record-setting wildfires here in California, we felt the time was right to honor Terry Tempest Williams,” said Julia Turner, The Times’ deputy managing Editor for arts and entertainment. “With issues of the environment and climate change becoming increasingly urgent, what better moment to recognize someone who has focused her creative life on writing about the land and fighting for environmental issues in the most elegant and articulate way?”

Nonprofit publisher Library of America will receive the Innovator’s Award; previous honorees have included Margaret Atwood, LeVar Burton and James Patterson.

“We are really pleased to recognize the Library of America for the invaluable work it has done over nearly four decades to preserve our nation’s rich written heritage by showcasing literature in all its forms,” said Times film critic and Book Prizes director Kenneth Turan. “Their distinct black volumes are a sure signal to readers that they are getting the very best.”

Kiese Laymon will receive the Christopher Isherwood Prize for autobiographical prose for his book “Heavy: An American Memoir.”


The book was the winner of the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and a finalist for the Kirkus Prize.

Rick Whitaker, one of the judges on the Isherwood Prize panel, said: “Laymon’s remarkable memoir about growing up black in America, published post-Obama, was without question the one we felt most urgently deserved the attention of American readers now. Its title is apt in so many ways: It refers to Laymon’s body, to his life, and to his writing, which does not flinch.”

Tickets for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will go on sale March 7 at the Festival of Books website.

The complete list of winners and finalists:


David W. Blight, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom”

Seymour M. Hersh, “Reporter: A Memoir”

Victoria Johnson, “American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic”

Bob Spitz, “Reagan: An American Journey”

Tara Westover, “Educated: A Memoir”



Francisco Cantú, “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border”

John Carreyrou, “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup”

Michael Lewis, “The Fifth Risk”

Michelle Obama, “Becoming”

Susan Orlean, “The Library Book”


Esi Edugyan, “Washington Black”

Abby Geni, “The Wildlands”

Tayari Jones, “An American Marriage”

Rebecca Makkai, “The Great Believers”

Michael Ondaatje, “Warlight”


Katya Apekina, “The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish”

Lisa Halliday, “Asymmetry”

R.O. Kwon, “The Incendiaries”

Tommy Orange, “There There”

Nafissa Thompson-Spires, “Heads of the Colored People: Stories”


Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell, “The Pervert”

Eleanor Davis, “Why Art?”

Aisha Franz, “... Is Real”

Jérôme Ruillier, “The Strange”

Tillie Walden, “On a Sunbeam”



Julia Boyd, “Travelers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism 1919-1945”

J.H. Elliott, “Scots and Catalans: Union and Disunion”

Ruby Lal, “Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan”

Miriam Pawel, “The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty That Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation”

Priya Satia, “Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution”


Megan Abbott, “Give Me Your Hand”

Kent Anderson, “Green Sun”

Lou Berney, “November Road”

Oyinkan Braithwaite, “My Sister, the Serial Killer”

Leila Slimani, “The Perfect Nanny”


Jos Charles, “Feeld”

Terrance Hayes, “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin”

Diana Khoi Nguyen, “Ghost Of”

Carl Phillips, “Wild Is the Wind”

Diane Seuss, “Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl”


Mona Hanna-Attisha, “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City”

Marcia Bjornerud, “Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World”

Rose George, “Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood”

Eliza Griswold, “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America”

Beth Macy, “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America”



Elizabeth Acevedo, “The Poet X”

Kelly Loy Gilbert, “Picture Us in the Light”

Claire Hartfield, “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919”

Jarret Krosoczka, “Hey, Kiddo!”

Emily X.R. Pan, “Astonishing Color of After”


Terry Tempest Williams


Library of America


Kiese Laymon, “Heavy: An American Memoir”