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Riki Rafner

The 2019 California Book Awards Honors Eleven Outstanding Books by California Authors

Awards Ceremony: Monday, June 10, 2019 at 6 p.m.

Gold Medals

Fiction: The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner, Scribner

First Fiction: There There, Tommy Orange, Alfred A. Knopf

Nonfiction: The Library Book, Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster

Juvenile: The Language of Spells, Garret Weyr, Chronicle Books

Young Adult: Picture Us In The Light, Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney-Hyperion

Poetry: Total Recall, Samantha Giles, Krupskaya

Californiana: The Browns of California, Miriam Pawel, Bloomsbury Publishing

Contribution to Publishing: Carleton Watkins: Making the West American, Tyler Green, University of California Press

Silver Medals

Fiction: Winter Kept Us Warm, Anne Raeff, Counterpoint Press

First Fiction: Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Doubleday

Nonfiction: American Prison, Shane Bauer, Penguin Press

SAN FRANCISCO (May 8, 2019)—The Commonwealth Club has announced the winners of the 88th annual California Book Awards. Book lovers from around the state will gather on Monday, June 10, at 6 p.m. at 110 The Embarcadero, San Francisco to recognize the winners at a special program and reception. For tickets, call (415) 597-6700.

“The California Book Awards jury is proud to announce our 2019 medalists,” says Peter Fish, chair of this year’s awards. “These prizes are California’s Pulitzers. They honor the extraordinary creativity of California writers and publishers. This year, we’re privileged to give medals to an especially strong roster of books and authors. In Non-Fiction, Susan Orlean’s The Library Book is a beautifully written love letter both to the American public library and to the city of Los Angeles. In Fiction, Rachel Kushner’s novel, The Mars Room, is funny, brutal, tragic and impossible to forget. In First Fiction, Tommy Orange’s There, There, is an exploration of contemporary Native American life that already seems like a classic. Our Juvenile medal winner, Garret Weyr’s The Language of Spells, is an utterly beguiling adventure tale starring magical dragons. Set in a high school in Silicon Valley, our Young Adult medalist, Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light, tackles the big questions. What constitutes a family? How do we discover who we’re meant to be? Our Poetry winner, Samantha Giles’ Total Recall, is a piercingly powerful examination of the nature of memory and abuse. Our Californiana award goes to Miriam Pawel’s definitive group biography of one of California’s most influential political dynasties in The Browns of California. And our Contribution to Publishing prize goes to the University of California Press and author Tyler Green for the superb biography Carleton Watkins: Making the West American.


Since 1931, the California Book Awards have honored the exceptional literary merit of California writers and publishers. Each year a select jury considers hundreds of books from around the state in search of the very best in literary achievement. Eligible books must be written while the author is a resident in California, and must be published during the year under consideration.

The California Book Awards have often been in the vanguard, honoring previously unknown authors who went on to garner national acclaim. John Steinbeck received three gold medals—for Tortilla Flat in 1935, In Dubious Battle in 1936 and The Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Recent award winners include Adam Johnson, Jared Diamond, Karen Fowler, Kay Ryan, William Vollman, Joyce Maynard, Andrew Sean Greer, Yiyun Li, Adrienne Rich, Chalmers Johnson, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Chabon, Philip Levine, Rebecca Solnit, Galen Rowell, Jonathan Lethem, Peter Orner and Kevin Starr.

Founded in 1903, The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum, with more than 25,000 members. The Club hosts speeches, debates and discussions on topics of regional, national and international interest.