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Isabel Wilkerson, Jacob Soboroff, Akwaeke Emezi among L.A. Times Book Prize finalists

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, S.A. Cosby, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Leslie Marmon Silko
L.A. Times Book Prize selections, clockwise from top: finalists Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, S.A. Cosby and Rachel Howzell Hall and Robert Kirsch Award winner Leslie Marmon Silko.
(Nathan Bajar/ Flatiron Books/Jay L. Clendenin/LAT/ Penguin Classics)

The finalists for the 41st Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced today, with Jacob Soboroff, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Ivy Pochoda, Douglas Stuart and Allan Wolf among the nominees for the annual literary awards.

The winners in three special categories were also announced. The Innovator’s Award will go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation; the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement to Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko; and the Christopher Isherwood Prize for autobiographical prose to Andrew O’Hagan for his coming-of-age novel “Mayflies.”

Ann Binney, special projects coordinator for The Times, called 2020 “an unprecedented year in so many ways” for the prizes. “It really is a thrill to see this come together in the face of so much difficulty. We had to figure out how to shift our process and, with the help of the publishing houses, publicists and editors, we were able to keep a constant flow of books coming to our judging panels throughout the shutdown.”

Rachel Howzell Hall’s new novel, “And Now She’s Gone,” breaks the crime-fiction mold; its success proves a long line of publishers wrong.

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Winners will be announced in a live-streamed virtual ceremony on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter on April 16, the day before the 26th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books kicks off its second virtual event during the ongoing pandemic. Special category winners also will be celebrated that day.

Nominated books in the current interest category include “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy” by NBC correspondent Soboroff, and “The Undocumented Americans” by Cornejo Villavicencio, among others. Nominees in biography include books on Andy Warhol, Malcolm X, Sylvia Plath and others.

In fiction, the finalists include Akwaeke Emezi’s “The Death of Vivek Oji,” Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s “Likes” and Peter Cameron’s “What Happens at Night.” A separate category for first fiction includes Maisy Card’s “These Ghosts Are Family” and Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning debut novel, “Shuggie Bain.”

Other nominated works include Rachel Howzell Hall’s “And Now She’s Gone” and S.A. Cosby’s “Blacktop Wasteland” for mystery/thriller; Victoria Chang’s “Obit” and Natalie Diaz‘s “Postcolonial Love Poem” in the poetry category; Ainissa Ramirez’s “The Alchemy of Us” for science and technology; and Bishakh Som’s “Apsara Engine” for graphic novel/comic.

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Finalists for the second Ray Bradbury Prize for science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction include Aoko Matsuda for “Where the Wild Ladies Are,” translated by Polly Barton; N.K. Jemisin for “The City We Became”; and Susanna Clarke for “Piranesi.”

Akwaeke Emezi’s new novel pieces together the short life of a young Nigerian man, exploring gender fluidity, Igbo belief and what makes a family.

The Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement recognizes a writer’s contributions to literature about the American West. Silko, who grew up on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation in New Mexico, writes primarily about the Native American experience and native traditions and community. She is a MacArthur fellow and the author of “Laguna Woman,” “Ceremony” and “Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit,” among other books.

The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, the Innovator’s Award winner, is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening “the bookselling and comic retailing communities through charitable programs,” according to its website. The group was especially active in 2020, helping stores severely affected by closures due to the pandemic. Previous Innovator’s Award recipients include WriteGirl, Powell’s Books, Margaret Atwood, LeVar Burton and John Green.

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Of O’Hagan’s “Mayflies,” Diana Wagman of the Christopher Isherwood Prize committee called the memoir “both deeply personal and universal. In one seminal night and one all-encompassing friendship, Andrew O’Hagan captures youth and joy and the possibilities in the shimmering future.”

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio talks about her eye-opening book “The Undocumented Americans” and what it taught her about herself. She’ll join the LAT Book Club on Dec. 15.

In a historic year filled with uncertainties and restrictions, planning the annual book prizes was no easy feat.

“Publicists, often newly working from home across the country with skeleton warehouse staff, did their best to get physical books out to our judging panels,” Binney said. “Our judges, dedicated readers who persevered through all this, kept reading, whether it was a PDF or an electronic book, even though they might have preferred to sit down with a physical book. They found ways to read any way they could. And the result is this amazing list of finalists, with so many new and diverse voices, that demonstrates what an exciting year for books it was.”

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See the full list of finalists below.

Biography

Les Payne and Tamara Payne, “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X”

Heather Clark, “Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath”

Blake Gopnik, “Warhol”

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David Michaelis, “Eleanor”

William Souder, “Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck”

Current interest

Brittany K. Barnett, “A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom”

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Undocumented Americans”

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Christine Montross, “Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration”

Jacob Soboroff, “Separated: Inside An American Tragedy”

Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

Fiction

Peter Cameron, “What Happens at Night”

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David Diop (translator Anna Moschovakis), “At Night All Blood is Black”

Akwaeke Emezi, “The Death of Vivek Oji”

Danielle Evans, “The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories”

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, “Likes”

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Graphic novel/comics

Yeon-sik Hong (translator Janet Hong), “Umma’s Table”

Kaito, “Blue Flag” (Vol. 1-4)

Ben Passmore, “Sports Is Hell”

Bishakh Som, “Apsara Engine”

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Jim Terry, “Come Home, Indio: A Memoir”

History

Alice L. Baumgartner, “South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War”

Adam Goodman, “The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants”

Walter Johnson, “The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States”

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Martha S. Jones, “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All”

David Vine, “The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, From Columbus to the Islamic State”

Mystery/thriller

Christopher Bollen, “A Beautiful Crime”

S.A. Cosby, “Blacktop Wasteland”

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Jennifer Hillier, “Little Secrets: A Novel”

Rachel Howzell Hall, “And Now She’s Gone”

Ivy Pochoda, “These Women: A Novel”

Poetry

Victoria Chang, “Obit”

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Anthony Cody, “Borderland Apocrypha”

Natalie Diaz, “Postcolonial Love Poem”

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, “The Age of Phillis”

Nikky Finney, “Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems and Artifacts”

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Science and technology

Brian Christian, “The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values”

Lulu Miller, “Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life”

Ainissa Ramirez, “The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another”

Sara Seager, “The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir”

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Patrik Svensson, “The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World”

The Art Seidenbaum Award for first fiction

Douglas Stuart, “Shuggie Bain”

Maisy Card, “These Ghosts Are Family: A Novel”

Meng Jin, “Little Gods”

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Deesha Philyaw, “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”

Shruti Swamy, “A House is a Body: Stories”

The Ray Bradbury Prize for science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction

Susanna Clarke, “Piranesi”

Megan Giddings, “Lakewood: A Novel”

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Stephen Graham Jones, “The Only Good Indians”

N.K. Jemisin, “The City We Became: A Novel”

Aoko Matsuda (Translator Polly Barton), “Where the Wild Ladies Are”

Young adult literature

Dean Atta, “The Black Flamingo”

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Tracy Deonn, “Legendborn”

Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi, “Punching the Air”

Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams, “Go With the Flow”

Allan Wolf, “The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices From the Donner Party”


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