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Riki Rafner

Finalists for the 88th Annual California Book Awards Competition Announced

Awards Ceremony: Monday, June 10, 2019 at 6 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (April 3, 2019)—The Commonwealth Club has announced this year’s finalists for the California Book Awards.  Book lovers from around the state will gather on Monday, June 10, at 6 pm at 110 The Embarcadero, San Francisco to recognize the winners at a special program and reception.  For tickets, call (415) 597-6700.

“The California Book Awards has honored California’s best writers for nearly ninety years,” commented Award Jury Chair, Peter Fish.  “This past year has been particularly strong. Our fiction and first fiction finalists include novels set in Colombia and in a California women’s prison; our non-fiction contenders include superbly reported accounts of a fire in Los Angeles’ Main Library and the tragic destruction of a World War II Navy cruiser. Our Juvenile nominees deal with the ravages of war and with magical dragons; our Young Adult books probe the mysteries of love and friendship and family.  Our poetry finalists are sorrowful, romantic and shattering.”

The California Book Awards jury is made up of published authors, award-winning editors, highly experienced librarians, prominent book-sellers and college professors who spend the better part of five months carefully reading, reading, and, well…reading.  “Sometimes the hundreds of books we deal with can seem intimidating,” Fish remarked.  “But it’s also an enormous pleasure.” The jury goes out of its way to seek offerings from small presses that may not have heard of the award.  Says Fish, “It’s especially gratifying when we can honor a writer or a small press that aren’t big names. It’s simply amazing how many outstanding writers live and work in California.”

The award winners are expected to be announced by the jury by June 1, 2019.  The 88th Annual California Book Awards ceremony will take place Monday, June 10, 2019 at 6 pm at the Commonwealth Club, 110 The Embarcadero in San Francisco. The event is open to the public. Books from award winning authors will be sold and available for book-signing immediately after the ceremony.


Since 1931, the California Book Awards have honored the exceptional literary merit of California writers and publishers. Each year a select jury considers hundreds of books from around the state in search of the very best in literary achievement.  Eligible books must be written while the author is a resident in California and must be published during the year under consideration.

The California Book Awards have often been on the vanguard, honoring previously unknown authors who go on to garner national acclaim. John Steinbeck received three gold medals – for Tortilla Flat in 1935, In Dubious Battle in 1936 and The Grapes of Wrath in 1939.  Recent award winners include Adam Johnson, Jared Diamond, Karen Fowler, Kay Ryan, Bill Vollman, Joyce Maynard, Andrew Sean Greer, Yiyun Li, Adrienne Rich, Chalmers Johnson, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Chabon, Philip Levine, Rebecca Solnit, Galen Rowell, Jonathan Lethem, Peter Orner and Kevin Starr.

Founded in 1903, The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum, with more than 25,000 members. The Club hosts speeches, debates and discussions on topics of regional, national and international interest.

Link to 88TH Annual CBA Finalist video here:



  • American Prison, Shane Bauer, Penguin Press
  • Indianapolis, Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic, Simon & Schuster 
  • The Library Book, Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster 
  • We the Corporations, Adam Winkler, Liveright/W.W. Norton & Company
  • The World in a Grain, Vince Beiser, Riverhead Books


  • Awayland, Ramona Ausubel, Riverhead Books
  • Girls Burn Brighter, Shobha Rao, Flatiron Books/Macmillan
  • The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner, Scribner
  • Winter Kept Us Warm, Anne Raeff, Counterpoint Press


  • Escape from Aleppo, N.H. Senzai, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
  • Jabberwalking, Juan Felipe Herrera, Candlewick Press
  • The Language of Spells, Garret Weyr, Chronicle Books

First Fiction

  • America is Not the Heart, Elaine Castillo, Viking
  • The Boatbuilder, Daniel Gumbiner, McSweeney’s Publishing
  • Frail Sister, Karen Green, Siglio Press
  • Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Doubleday
  • There There, Tommy Orange, Alfred A. Knopf 

Yount Adult

  • Damsel, Elana K. Arnold, Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books
  • Picture Us in the Light, Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney Hyperion
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker, Jen Wang, First Second Books
  • The Way You Make Me Feel, Maurene Goo, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
  • Rabbit & Robot, Andrew Smith, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing


  • Cenzontle, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, BOA Editions, Ltd.
  • Isako Isako, Mia Ayumi Malhotra, Alice James Books
  • Total Recall, Samantha Giles, Krupskaya
  • Vigilance Is No Orchard, Hazel White, Nightboat Books