California Book Awards


The Commonwealth Club World Affairs of California’s California Book Awards has selected this year’s finalists for its 2023 awards. One of the oldest and most distinguished literary award programs in the nation has chosen 34 outstanding books in eight categories, out of hundreds of titles submitted. From these finalists the book award jury will choose Gold and Silver Medal award winners to be announced in May.


Fire in the Canyon, by Daniel Gumbiner
Astra Publishing House

Empty Theatre, by Jac Jemc
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Chinese Groove, by Kathryn Ma
Counterpoint Press

Blackouts, by Justin Torres
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese
Grove Atlantic


I Will Greet the Sun Again, by Khashayar J. Khabushani
Penguin Random House

All-Night Pharmacy, by Ruth Madievsky

Night Wherever We Go, by Tracey Rose Peyton


The Three Ages of Water: Prehistoric Past, Imperiled Present, and a Hope for the Future, by Peter Gleick

The Hungry Season: A Journey of War, Love, and Survival, by Lisa M. Hamilton
Little, Brown and Company

Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History, by Yunte Huang
W.W. Norton and Company

Orphan Bachelors: A Memoir, by Fae Myenne Ng
Grove Atlantic

California Against the Sea: Visions for Our Vanishing Coastline, by Rosanna Xia


Deep Oakland:  How Geology Shaped a City, by Andrew Alden

Octopus's Garden:  How Railroads and Citrus Transformed Southern California, by Benjamin T. Jenkins
University Press of Kansas

Portal:  San Francisco's Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities, by John King
W.W. Norton & Company

Settler Cannabis:  From Gold Rush to Green Rush in Indigenous Northern California, by Kaitlin P. Reed
University of Washington Press

The Riders Come Out at Night:  Brutality, Corruption, and Cover-Up in Oakland, by Ali Winstone and Darwin BondGraham
Simon & Schuster


Mass for Shut-Ins, by Mary-Alice Daniel
Yale University Press

Things I Didn’t Do With This Body, by Amanda Gunn
Copper Canyon Press

Quiver, by Luke Johnson
Texas Review Press

Tarta Americana, by J. Michael Martinez
Penguin Books


The Blood Years, by Elana K. Arnold
Balzer + Bray

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent, by Ann Jacobus
Lerner Publisher Group

Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam, by Thien Pham
MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed, by Dashka Slater
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 


The Eyes and the Impossible, by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris
McSweeney’s/Knopf Books for Young Readers

A First Time for Everything, by Dan Santat
MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

The Honey Jar: An Armenian’s Escape to Freedom, by Joan Schoettler
Bushel & Peck Books

Boomi’s Boombox, by Shanthi Sekaran

Big Tree, by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press


KAOS Theory:  The Afrokosmic Ark of Ben Caldwell, by Roberson Taj Frazier
Angel City Press

Sea Change:  An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean, by Christina Gerhardt
University of California Press

How to Say Goodbye, by Wendy MacNaughton
Bloomsbury Publishing

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 2024 may be submitted starting in September.

Click to learn more about the awards


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 QuarterlyCrayon1913: 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.

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 ChronicleViaCoastal 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.

Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of Conviction, a finalist for the Morris Award; Picture Us in the Light, a California Book Award winner and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist; and, most recently, When We Were Infinite. She writes and occasionally teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Gravity Goldberg is the director of public programs and visitor experience at The Contemporary Jewish Museum. She sits on the advisory board for the Litquake Literary Festival, and is the co-founder of Instant City: A Literary Exploration of San Francisco. She lives in San Francisco with her brilliant husband and fluff ball of a cat.

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.

Gordon Jack is the author of two young adult novels, The Boomerang Effect (HarperTeen, 2016) and Your Own Worst Enemy (HarperTeen, 2018). When he’s not writing books, he’s recommending them as librarian at Los Altos High School, where he’s worked since 1995.

Scott James is an Emmy-winning veteran journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times. His most recent book is Trial by Fire: A Devastating Tragedy, 100 Lives Lost, and a 15-Year Search for Truth, which reopened the investigation into one of America’s deadliest criminal cases. Trial by Fire won the 2021 top prize for nonfiction from the New England Society Book Awards, plus was the subject of an episode of the CBS News program “48 Hours.” James is also the author of the two bestselling novels SoMa and The Sower, both written under the pen name Kemble Scott.

Evan Karp is the founding director of Quiet Lightning and events manager for Booksmith and Berkeley Arts & Letters. He’s written literary columns for the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, SF WeeklySF/Arts and The Rumpus, and his nonfiction and poetry have appeared widely in print and online. Evan has released three albums combining music, words and other sounds, two with his brother Miles as Turk & Divis and one with Maw Shein Win as Vata & the Vine.

Nathalie Khankan is the author of Quiet Orient Riot, published by Omnidawn in 2020, recipient of the 2021 California Book Award in Poetry. She was the founding director of the Danish House in Palestine and now teaches Arabic language and literature at UC Berkeley.

Maya Makker (she/her) grew up in the Central Valley and studied at UC Davis. She has worked as an educator in art, history, and science museums, and is passionate about telling diverse stories in our cultural institutions. Her love of books and collaborating with youth led her to 826 Valencia, where she now works as the communications manager.

Madison McCartha is a poet, critic, and multimedia artist whose debut book of poetry and visual art, Freakophone World, was published by Inside the Castle in 2021. Their second book, The Cryptodrone Sequence, is forthcoming from Black Ocean. McCartha holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, and is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. McCartha's writing can be found in Black Warrior ReviewBombDenver QuarterlyjubilatThe Spectacle, and elsewhere.

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.

Scott Saul is a historian and critic who has written for The New York TimesHarper'sThe Nation, and other publications. He is the author of Becoming Richard Pryor (2014), longlisted for the PEN Biography Prize, and Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties (2003), which received the American Book Award. He teaches courses in American literature and history at UC-Berkeley, where he is a professor of English. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and son.

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 TimesThe 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).

Lauren Silver is the vice president for education at The Commonwealth Club. She has taught in museums, pre-K–12 classrooms, and universities, and she holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from UC Berkeley, where her research focused on young children’s development of art and narrative.

Mary Taugher is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals in print and online, including Narrative MagazineThe Gettysburg ReviewSanta Monica ReviewNotre Dame ReviewPrime Number Magazine, and Coolest American Stories. She lives in San Francisco, where she is working on a short story collection.

Please direct any questions regarding the Book Awards to: 

Click to learn more about the awards.

The California Book Awards for Youth

Since 2020, The Commonwealth Club has partnered with the National Writing Project to bring the California Book Awards to youth. Each year, students are invited to read the finalists in the Juvenile and Young Adult Literature categories and publish their responses to a set of writing prompts online. Working with schools, libraries and other educational settings, the project supports young people’s literacy development by providing a safe and age-appropriate space for reading, writing, sharing and media creation.


Books in the categories of Fiction, First Work of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Juvenile (to age 12), Young Adult, Californiana, and Contribution to Publishing

Work must have been written by authors living in California at the time their work was published or submitted for publication.

To be eligible for Californiana, the work must deal with a California-based issue, topic, or historical period.

To be eligible for Contribution to Publishing, the publisher must be a California resident.

To be eligible for Juvenile, the writer AND illustrator (if applicable) must be California residents.

To be eligible for First Work of Fiction, the work must be the author’s first fictional effort. Previously published short story collections will disqualify an author from the First Work of Fiction category; however, the author can still submit for the Fiction category.

Short story collections and essays by the same author will be accepted for consideration under the Fiction category.

If certain stories in the short story or essay collection have been published previously, the work may still be submitted for consideration. Eligibility is at the discretion of the jury.


Self-published works

Works from a publishing house that does not have some sort of vetting process


Guidebooks or manuals

“As told to” books

Anthologies from multiple authors

Works by dual authors, unless both authors are California residents

Translations of deceased authors or older works

Reprints of books published in previous years

Please direct any questions regarding the Book Awards to: