The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were first awarded in 1980, with the idea of honoring literary excellence and celebrating the community of readers in Los Angeles. The inspiration of former Times book editor Art Seidenbaum, those first prizes included awards in four book categories – fiction, history, general nonfiction and poetry – as well as the inaugural Robert Kirsch Award, which was presented to Wallace Stegner for his extraordinary career and dedication to the literature of the west.

Now, thirty-seven years later, the Book Prizes encompass 11 subject categories, the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement and the Innovator’s Award. But the essential mission – a commitment to literary excellence, to intelligence and engagement, to the writer of brilliance and the career of importance, to the most enduring aesthetic and cultural values – perseveres. Over nearly four decades the recipients of these prizes have included a who’s who of contemporary literature, including Nobel Laureates Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Czeslaw Milosz and Doris Lessing; former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky; National Book Award winners Joan Didion and Allen Ginsberg, Man Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood, Newbery-Award winning children’s author Beverly Cleary, Printz Award winner John Green, children’s literacy advocate LeVar Burton, and best-selling author James Patterson.

The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are judged by working writers, so in a very real sense they express the admiration of a community of peers. But even more, they tell us that reading is important, an essential way of connecting with, and understanding, the world in which we live. In a culture of flash and fashion, this can only bear repeating, which is what the Book Prizes do. Every year, they remind us of the power of books to move and enlighten us, to connect us to the best that we as human beings have to offer, to illuminate us through the written word.