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 40 years later, the Book Prizes are part of the Reading by 9 Fund and encompass 12 categories and are dedicated to championing new voices and celebrating the highest quality of writing from authors at all stages of their careers. 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.
The Book Prizes cover twelve subject categories: biography, current interest, autobiographical prose (the Christopher Isherwood Prize added 2016), fiction, first fiction (the Art Seidenbaum Award added 1991), graphic novel (added 2009), history, mystery/thriller (added in 2000), poetry, science fiction/fantasy (added 2019!), science and technology (added in 1989), and young adult literature (added in 1998).
The Robert Kirsch Award
Recognizing the body of work of a living author who resides in and/or whose work focuses on the West and whose contributions to American letters deserve special recognition.
The Innovator’s Award (added 2009)
Recognizes the people and institutions that are doing cutting edge work to bring books, publishing and storytelling into the future, whether in terms of new business models, new technologies or new applications of narrative art.
The Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose (added 2016)
The Christopher Isherwood Prize spans fiction, travel writing, memoir and diary, all genres in which Isherwood worked. During his lifetime, he authored novels, autobiography, travel books, and over a million words of diaries. His novel "Goodbye Berlin" became the basis for the stage play Cabaret while "A Single Man" was made into an award-winning feature film. Katherine Bucknell, executive director of The Christopher Isherwood Foundation, says, “The Christopher Isherwood Foundation is absolutely delighted to be giving this prize with the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles was Christopher Isherwood’s adoptive home, and in 1984 he was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award for his own writing.” A five-judge panel has picked the 2019 winner of 2019.
The Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction (added 2019)
Brand-new this year! Sponsored by Ray Bradbury Literary Works, this award honors and extends Bradbury’s literary legacy by celebrating and elevating the writers working in his field today. “We are thrilled to present this prize in partnership with the LA Times,” the family of Ray Bradbury said in a statement. “Ray was a proud Angeleno who used words to both predict and prevent the future — this prize recognizes authors with a similar passion for storytelling and the far-reaching effects their words have in this world.” A 3-judge panel has chosen the 5 finalists for 2019.
- The Kirsch and Innovator's Award winners are selected by an anonymous internal Los Angeles Times committee.
Who is Eligible?
Eligibility for the prizes requires a book to have its first United States publication* between January 1 and December 31 of the prize year. This American publication must be in English; however, English does not have to be the original language of the work. Authors may be of any nationality. They should be alive at the time of their book’s qualifying U.S. publication although eligibility is also extended to significant new translations of the work of deceased writers.
Books by current employees of the Los Angeles Times, by current employees of Tribune Company or any of its other affiliates, by currently serving judges of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, or by immediate family members of these groups are not eligible.
*Graphic Novel/Comics and The Christopher Isherwood Prize are the exceptions to the U.S. publication rule. Books published in English from publishers outside the US may be considered.
Can I Submit My Book to the Judges?
NO. There is no external nominating process for the Book Prizes. Authors, publishers, agents or publicists cannot propose or submit titles for consideration.
Who Are the Judges?
The Book Prize judges are writers, academics, journalists, librarians, who generally work in the fields in which they judge or they have a deep connection to that field. Not all of the judges are, in any given year, from Los Angeles, or even from California. Most, but not all, are published writers. None is ever a current Times employee. Judges are appointed, typically, for two-year terms which are usually staggered so that on each panel either one or two judges are replaced every year.
Responsibility for nominating books for consideration and for naming both the finalists and the ultimate winners rests solely with ten panels of three judges each. (The fiction panel handles both fiction and first fiction.) The best way to get your book noticed by the judges is to send it out widely for review.
Five finalists in each single-title category are announced in late February of the year following the actual Prize year (i.e. the 2019 finalists are announced in February of 2020). At that time, the winners of the Robert Kirsch Innovator’s Awards, as well as the Christopher Isherwood Prize are revealed. From each group of category finalists, a winner is announced when the Book Prizes are presented in a public ceremony in a Friday night kick off to Festival of Books weekend.
The Los Angeles Times presents the Book Prizes and the Festival of Books as part of its many community programs promoting literacy and education to benefit people across Southern California.
The Los Angeles Times Book Prize program has been directed since 1995 by Kenneth Turan, who was Times book editor from 1990 to 1991. He is currently the newspaper’s film critic.
For more information contact the Book Prizes’ administrator, Ann Binney, 800-LA TIMES, ext. 75775