California Book Awards

90TH ANNUAL CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS FINALISTS 

Celebrating its 90th birthday, the jury of the California Book Awards has selected this year’s finalists for its 2021 awards. One of the oldest and most distinguished literary award programs in the nation has chosen 26 outstanding books in six categories, out of hundreds of titles submitted. Gold and Silver Medal award winners will be announced in July. 

FICTION 

Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu 
Pantheon/Vintage 

Members Only, by Sameer Pandya 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth, by Daniel Mason 
Little, Brown and Company 

These Women, by Ivy Pochoda 
Ecco 

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett 
Riverhead Books 

FIRST FICTION 

Fiebre Tropical, by Juli Delgado Lopera 
Feminist Press 

Godshot, by Chelsea Bieker 
Catapult 

How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C Pam Zhang 
Riverhead Books 

NONFICTION 

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, by Laila Lalami 
Pantheon Books 

Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time, by Ben Ehrenreich 
Counterpoint Press  

Golden Gates: The Housing Crisis and a Reckoning for the American Dream, by Conor Dougherty 
Penguin Press 

Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire, by Tom Zoellner 
Harvard University Press 

South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War, by Alice L. Baumgartner 
Basic Books 

POETRY 

Bareback Nightfall, by Joshua Escobar 
Noemi Press 

Borderland Apocrypha, by Anthony Cody 
Omnidawn 

Letters to a Young Brown Girl, by Barbara Jane Reyes 
BOA Editions, Ltd. 

Little Hill, by Alli Warren 
City Lights 

Quiet Orient Riot, by Nathalie Khankan 
Omnidawn 

YOUNG ADULT 

The Black Kids, by Christina Hammonds Reed
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang 
First Second Books, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group 

Private Lessons, by Cynthia Salaysay 
Candlewick Press 

We Are Not Free, by Traci Chee 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

JUVENILE 

Efrén Divided, by Ernesto Cisneros 
Quill Tree Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan 
Scholastic Press 

The Only Black Girls In Town, by Brandy Colbert
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Outside In, by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Since 1931, the California Book Awards have honored the exceptional literary merit of California writers and publishers. Eligible books must be written while the author is a resident in California and must be published during the year under consideration. 

Books published in 2021 may be submitted starting in September. 

Click to learn more about the awards

California Book Awards Jury

Rosalind Chang is a retired children’s librarian/branch manager from the Oak Grove School District in San Jose, the Sarah Dix Hamlin School in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Public Library. Chang has served on the Caldecott and Sibert award committees. 

Chris Chen is assistant professor of literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Chen has published poetry, essays, interviews, and reviews in boundary 2, the South Atlantic Quarterly, Crayon, 1913: A Journal of Forms, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is completing a book-length comparative study of contemporary African American and Asian American experimental poetry. 

Aja Couchois Duncan is a social justice coach and capacity builder of Ojibwe, French and Scottish descent who lives on the ancestral and stolen land of the Coastal Miwok people. Her debut collection, Restless Continent (Litmus Press, 2016) was selected by Entropy Magazine as one of the best poetry collections of 2016 and awarded the California Book Award for Poetry in 2017. Her newest book, Vestigial, is forthcoming from Litmus Press in the spring of 2021. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a variety of other degrees and credentials to certify her as human. Great Spirit knew it all along. 

Roy Eisenhardt is a lecturer at UC Berkeley and USF Schools of Law. He is a former attorney, president of the Oakland Athletics and executive director of the California Academy of Sciences. 

Peter Fish is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and teacher. For many years travel editor of Sunset magazine, he now writes regularly for The San Francisco Chronicle, Via, Coastal Living, and other publications. In fall of 2018 he was Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University; he currently teaches travel and nature writing for Stanford Continuing Studies. His fiction has appeared most recently in The Sewanee Review.

Mary Ellen Hannibal is a journalist and author, most recently of Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction. It received a Nautilus Book Award and was named one of the best books of 2016 by the San Francisco Chronicle

Sally M. Kim is a publishing and children's book marketing consultant based in San Francisco, CA. Her global client list includes publishers, literary agents, and global non-profit organizations. She is a committee member for Great Group Reads and a board member for The Children's Reading Foundation. 

Alden Mudge is a reviewer and editor from Berkeley, California. He’s past board chair of Bike East Bay, a bicycle advocacy organization.

Denise Newman’s fifth poetry collection, The Redesignation of Paradise, will be published in 2021 by Kelsey Street Press. Her most recent translation, When Death Take Something From You Give It Back by the Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt, was a semifinalist for the National Book Award. She teaches at the California College of the Arts. 

Sarah Rosenthal is the author of Estelle Meaning Star (Chax, forthcoming); The Grass Is Greener When the Sun Is Yellow (Operating System, 2019, a collaboration with Valerie Witte); Lizard (Chax, 2016); and Manhatten (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009), as well as numerous chapbooks. She edited A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area (Dalkey Archive, 2010). Her film We Agree on the Sun has received screenings and awards from numerous film festivals, including Best Experimental Short at the 2021 Berlin Independent Film Festival.

Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView magazine. His work leading publications over the years has earned national awards for writing, design, and overall excellence. Editor of the collection Each a Mighty Voice: A Century of Speeches from The Commonwealth Club of California, his essays, fiction, and reviews have appeared in Orion, The Believer, Salon, The Kenyon Review, on KQED FM and elsewhere.

Julia Flynn Siler is the author of two New York Times bestselling works of nonfiction, The House of Mondavi and Lost Kingdom. She is a former staff writer and longtime contributor to The Wall Street Journal and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Oxford Dictionary of Food and Wine, and other publications. She received a 2016-2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar award to support her new book, The White Devil’s Daughter’s: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019). 

Sarah Stone is a librarian and youth materials specialist at the San Francisco Public Library. She reviews children's and teen books for School Library Journal

Mary Taugher’s fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Narrative Magazine, Potomac Review, Edge, and other literary journals.  She has worked as a journalist in Ohio and Southern California, and as a writer and editor for public relations, political consulting and fundraising firms. A graduate from San Francisco State University’s M.F.A. Creative Writing Program, she lives in San Francisco where she is working on a collection of short stories. 

Please direct any questions regarding the Book Awards to bookawards@commonwealthclub.org.