About the California Book Awards

The Selection Process

Each year, The Commonwealth Club receives hundreds of books from California authors for award consideration. Our dedicated jury spends several months assessing each entry, narrowing down the many submitted works to a group of finalists and finally the medalists themselves.

Types of Awards

The California Book Awards began in 1931 with two gold medals—one for a work of fiction and one for nonfiction. Through the years several more categories have been added, bringing the total number of awards given each year to 11.

Medals are now awarded in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, First Work of Fiction, Californiana, Young Adult Literature (up to age 11), Juvenile Literature (age 12–16) and Notable Contribution to Publishing.

History of the Book Awards

On the evening of June 11, 1931, then Club President James A. Johnston announced the creation of an award whose goal was to foster literature within the Golden State. "It is hoped and expected," he said, "that the recognition afforded by these annual California Commonwealth Club Literature Medals will be a spur and an encouragement to many a California author in this and future years."

The Commonwealth Club's Annual Book Awards are now among the most prestigious literary awards in the state of California. To date, the Club has recognized more than 450 California authors for outstanding contributions to the art of the written word in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Juvenile Literature, Young Adult Literature, First Work of Fiction, Californiana, and Notable Contribution to Publishing.

The continuing goals of the Book Awards Jury are to foster good works written by California authors, recognize the best California writers in a particular year and illuminate the wealth and diversity of California-based literature. Throughout the years, many prominent writers have received a California Book Award, some famous at the time, and others who would receive broader recognition later in their careers.

Literary historians generally credit The Commonwealth Club Book Awards as among the first to recognize the young John Steinbeck, who received three Gold Medals between 1935 and 1939. In fact, the Club became embroiled in controversy after awarding Steinbeck his third Gold Medal for The Grapes of Wrath, which triggered a series of protests throughout the state. The Club was criticized for acknowledging a book that portrayed California in such a poor light. It didn't take long, however, for The Grapes of Wrath to silence its critics and become an American classic.

Other widely-known authors who have received Commonwealth Club Gold Medals:

  • C.S. Forester for The Good Shepherd (1955)
  • Wallace Stegner for All the Little Live Things (1967) and The Spectator Bird (1976)
  • Harriet Doerr for Stones for Ibarra (1984)
  • T. Coraghessan Boyle for World's End: A Novel (1987) and Talk, Talk (2006)
  • Amy Tan for The Joy Luck Club (1989)
  • Ethan Canin for The Palace Thief (1994)
  • Diane Johnson for Le Divorce (1997)
  • Michael Chabon for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001)
  • Richard Rodriguez for Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002)
  • William T. Vollman for Europe Central (2005)
  • Kay Ryan for Niagra River (2005)
  • Michael Pollan for The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006)
  • Ishmael Reed for New and Collected Poems 1964-2006 (2006)
  • Jared Diamond for Collapse (2005) and Guns, Germs and Steel (1997)
  • Khaled Hosseini for A Thousand Splendid Sums (2007)
  • Victoria Sweet for God's Hotel (2012)
  • Jill Leovy for Ghettoside (2015)

The Book Awards Jury continues to uphold the same strict standards as the original jury of 1931. Each year the jury carefully considers hundreds of submissions from authors around the state, who have written on a wide variety of subjects. The wealth of submissions reflects the ever increasing talent of California writers and the literary richness of the Golden State.