2020 L.A. Times Book Prizes

Congratulations to all our 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize Winners and Nominees.

You may buy the finalists' books by clicking the links in the category headings below. The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop whose fees support independent bookstores.

Robert Kirsch Award

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Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silko was born in 1948 to a family whose ancestry includes Mexican, Laguna Indian, and European forebears. She has said that her writing has at its core “the attempt to identify what it is to be a half-breed or mixed-blood person.” As she grew up on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, she learned the stories and culture of the Laguna people from her great-grandmother and other female relatives. After receiving her B. A. in English at the University of New Mexico, she enrolled in the University of New Mexico law school but completed only three semesters before deciding that writing and storytelling, not law, were the means by which she could best promote justice. Prior to the publication of Ceremony in 1977, she published short stories and authored  Laguna Woman: Poems, for which she received the Pushcart Prize. She followed the critical success of Ceremony with a series of other novels, including Storyteller, Almanac for the Dead, and Gardens in the Dunes. It was the singular achievement of Ceremony that first secured her a place among the first rank of Native American novelists.

Innovator’s Award

The Book Industry Charitable Organization (Binc)

The Book Industry Charitable Organization (BINC) is a nonprofit that coordinates charitable programs to strengthen the bookselling community. Binc's core program provides assistance to employees and shop owners who have a demonstrated financial need arising from severe hardship and/or emergency circumstances. Since its inception, the organization has provided over $9 million in financial assistance and scholarships to more than 9000+ families. Support for Binc’s programs and services comes from all sectors of the book and comic industries. Their mission is to strengthen the bookselling and comic retail community through charitable programs that support employees and their families. The Foundation was imagined and built by booksellers and continues to be their safety net.
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The Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose

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Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan

In a classically shaped story based on events in his own life, Andrew O'Hagan masterfully captures a particular time and place: Glasgow during the 1980s, with its post-punk music and the Thatcher era. This is the story of two young men and one seminal night during their lives, culminating in a dramatic ending that leaves readers stunned with admiration and equally awed by the fierce, determined courage of the leading character named Tully. There is also a universality among the themes: youth, and the time when everything is an agony but when it feels that anything might yet happen. The throb of the possible, and the shimmery future, and always, alongside, the bigger question of freewill. In keeping with the legacy of Christopher Isherwood, Andrew O'Hagan's prose is accessible and engaging, distinctive and original. Funny, well-paced and elegant, Mayflies is a  striking achievement in the career of its author, and the judges universally agreed that this novel was a superior and satisfying work of fiction in every single way.

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Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

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WINNER

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

"In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies", Deesha Philyaw explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good.
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FINALISTS

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card 

A compelling debut novel that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations. 
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Little Gods

A lyrical and thought-provoking debut novel that explores the complex web of grief, memory, time, physics, history, and selfhood in the immigrant experience. 
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Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

An unforgettable story of a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in Glasgow’s run-down public housing, while Thatcher’s policies put husbands and sons out of work, and a drug epidemic is on the rise.  
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A House is a Body, by Shruti Swamy’s

Shruti Swamy’s collection of twelve arresting stories, "A House is a Body", present a world where dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity.  
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WINNER

Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder

A resonant biography of America’s celebrated novelist, Nobel Laureate, lover of the California landscape and sea and chronicler of the Great Depression. 
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FINALISTS

Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark

"Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath" focuses on Plath’s remarkable literary and intellectual achievements, while restoring the woman behind long-held myths about her life and art. 
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Warhol by Blake Gopnik

A definitive biography of a fascinating and paradoxical figure, and one of the most influential artists of his—or any—age 
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Eleanor by David Michaelis

A breakthrough portrait of America’s longest-serving First Lady  whose agency as a diplomat, activist, and humanitarian made her one of the world’s most admired and influential women. 
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The Dead are Arising by Les Payne & Tamara Payne

An epic biography of Malcolm X drawing on hundreds of hours of the author’s interviews over 30 years and completed, after his death, by his daughter and head researcher, rewriting much of the known narrative about this central figure in the African American freedom struggle. 
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Current Interest

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WINNER

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions in her groundbreaking work "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents".  
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FINALISTS

A Knock at Midnight: A story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett

A call to free those buried alive by America’s legal system, from an important new voice in the movement to transform that system. 
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Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration by Christine Montross, M.D.

Galvanized by her work in our nation's jails, psychiatrist Christine Montross illuminates the human cost of mass incarceration and mental illness in her riveting glimpse into America’s prison system in "Waiting for an Echo" 
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Separated: Inside an American Tragedy by Jacob Soboroff

An award-winning NBC News correspondent, lays bare the truth behind the Trump administration’s systematic separation of families at the US-Mexico border in Separated: Inside an American Tragedy. 
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The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio reveals the hidden lives of Americans without legal status in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation 
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WINNER

At Night All Blood Is Black: A Novel by David Diop, Anna Moschovakis (Translator)

"At Night All Blood Is Black" marks the English-language, historical fiction debut of David Dioptranslated by Anna Moschovakis. This anti-war treatise explores terror and transformation in the trenches of the First World War. 
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FINALISTS

What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron

A couple finds themselves at a fading, grand European hotel filled with unsettling patrons in story both funny and heartbreaking, examining shifting desires and the uncertainty of reality.
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The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

A novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—it is a story of loss and transcendencethat teems with unforgettable characters.
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The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans

Danielle Evans brings her signature voice to the subjects of race, grief, apology, and American history, chronicling how these subjects reverberate through daily life in "The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories".  
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Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum explores the contradictions of our contemporary moment in "Likes"Friendshipparenthood, celebrityobsession, raceclass and the passage of time, are essential themes in this collection. 
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Graphic Novel

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WINNER

Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som

A graphic short story collection immersed in questions of gender, the body, and existential conformity.
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FINALISTS

Umma's Table by Yeon-sik Hong, Janet Hong (translator)

The Korean comics artist presents a beautiful and heartbreaking meditation on how the kitchen and communal cooking bind a family together.  
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Blue Flag (vol. 1-4) by KAITO

A wonderful romance manga featuring an unexpected love quadrangle. 
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Sports is Hell by Ben Passmore

A powerful work of satire that takes on political action, race, violence and capitalism, using sports as an ominous backdrop for a broader fable of societal breakdown. 
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Come Home, Indio: A Memoir by Jim Terry

A charming but brutally honest look at the pain of childhood and the alienation and anxiety of early adulthood.
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WINNER

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha S. Jones

An epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power -- and how it transformed the country.
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FINALISTS

South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War by Alice Baumgartner

A surprising account of the crucial role played by slaves who escaped to Mexico in the lead-up to the Civil War.
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The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants by Adam Goodman

"The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants" examines our history of deportation showing how federal, state, and local officials have targeted groups for expulsion  and illustrating how fear shapes immigrants' lives.  
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The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States by Walter Johnson

"The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States" portrays the racial dynamics that lie at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis. 
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The United States of War: A Global History of America's Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State by David Vine

"The United States of War: A Global History of America's Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State" examines how the U.S. military has shaped our entire world, from today’s endless wars to the prominence of violence in everyday American life. 
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Mystery & Thriller

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WINNER

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

Described as Ocean’s Eleven meets Drive, with a Southern noir twist; a searing story of a man pushed to his limits by poverty, race, and his own former life of crime. 
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FINALISTS

A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen

Christopher Bollen weaves a story of intrigue and deception in "A Beautiful Crime", set in contemporary Venice and featuring a young American couple who have set their sights on a risky con. 
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And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

"And Now She’s Gone" focuses on two women in a dangerous cat and mouse game, exploring the nature of secrets ― and how violence and fear can lead you to abandon everything to survive. 
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Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

In "Little Secrets"a woman, overwhelmed by tragedy, desperately tries to save her marriage in this riveting novel of psychological suspense. 
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These Women by Ivy Pochoda

A serial killer story like you’ve never seen before—a literary thriller of female empowerment and social change. 
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WINNER

Obit by Victoria Chang

After her mother died, Victoria Chang distilled her grief by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. These beautiful, heartfelt poems make up "Obit" 
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FINALISTS

Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody

An avant-garde examination of how borderlands have remained occupied spaces, and of the necessity of liberation to usher the earth and its people toward healing.  
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Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

An anthem of desire against erasure demanding that every body in its pages―bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers―be held as beloveds.
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The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

A meticulously researched collection of poems that imagines the remarkable life and times of Phillis Wheatley, the first Black woman to publish a book in America.  
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Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems and Artifacts by Nikky Finney

A twenty-first-century paean to the sterling love songs humming throughout four hundred years of black American life. 
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Science & Technology

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WINNER

The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir by Sara Seager

Sara Seager is an MIT astrophysicist who reinvented herself in the wake of tragedy, discovering the power of connection on this planet and beyond, in her memoir The Smallest Lights in the Universe 
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FINALISTS

The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values by Brian Christian

A jaw-dropping exploration of everything that goes wrong when we build AI systems and the movement to fix them. 
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Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, about how to persevere in a world where chaos prevails. 
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The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another examines eight inventions—among them clocks, photographic film, light bulbs and silicon chips--and reveals how they have shaped human experience.   
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The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World by Patrik Svensson

"The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World" is both a meditation on the world’s most elusive fish—the eel—and a reflection on the human condition.  
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Ray Bradbury Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction

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WINNER

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

A novel that is equal parts psychological horror and cutting social commentary on identity politics and the American Indian experience
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FINALISTS

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

"Piranesi" introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds. 
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Lakewood: A Novel by Megan Giddings

Megan Giddings startling debut novel about class and race, evoking a terrifying world of medical experimentation. 
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The City We Became: A Novel (The Great Cities Trilogy, 1) by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin crafts an incredible story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.
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Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, Polly Barton (translator)

"Where the Wild Ladies Are" collects feminist retellings of Japanese folktales—from shapeshifting wives to magical trees—presenting a world in which humans encounter the only sometimes visible forces that surround them. 
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Young Adult

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WINNER

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Dr. Yusef Salaam

"Punching the Air" by Ibi Zoboi & Dr. Yusef Salaam, of the Exonerated Five, deliver a powerful novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated.  
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FINALISTS

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

A fierce coming-of-age verse novel about identity and the power of drag, from acclaimed British poet and performer Dean Atta. 
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Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

The debut contemporary fantasy from Tracy Deonn, is filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, weaving Arthurian adventure with a heavy dose of southern Black Girl Magic. 
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Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams

High school students embark on a crash course of friendship, female empowerment, and women's health issues in Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann's graphic novel Go With the Flow. 
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The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party by Allan Wolf

"The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party" is a powerful and vivid portrait in verse of one of history’s most harrowing tales of survival. 
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