Viet Thanh Nguyen adds a California Book Award to his collection of honors for “The Sympathizer.” (Courtesy BeBe Jacobs)

Viet Thanh Nguyen adds a California Book Award to his collection of honors for “The Sympathizer.” (Courtesy BeBe Jacobs)

Diverse winners honored at 85th Cal Book Awards

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jill Leovy have joined the ranks of John Steinbeck, Wallace Stegner, Amy Tan and Ray Bradbury, as winners of the Commonwealth Club-sponsored California Book Awards.

The 85th annual awards, which honor the best published writing in California — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s literature and more — are being celebrated with a ceremony Monday in The City, followed by a book signing.

Nguyen, gold medalist for first fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize for “The Sympathizer,” his searing novel about the toll of the war for the Vietnamese after the fall — or liberation — of Saigon.

Leovy, winner for nonfiction, wrote “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America” based on her years as a Los Angeles Times crime correspondent, digging deep into the under-reported homicide epidemic in the Southern California city’s poor and minority neighborhoods.

Posthumous winner for fiction is Lucia Berlin, for the short story collection “A Manual for Cleaning Women.”

Mary Ellen Hannibal, chair of the awards, points to “an amazing diversity of voices” among the honorees, whose “compelling” work provides “historical context, relentless questioning, and the salve of true art.”

Sponsored by Bank of the West, the event also includes a raffle for a set of this year’s award-winning books,

2016 Gold and silver winners
Fiction: Lucia Berlin, “A Manual for Cleaning Women”; Ernest J. Finney, “Elevation: 6,040”
First fiction: Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Sympathizer”
Nonfiction: Jill Leovy, “Ghettoside”; Steve Silberman, “NeuroTribes”
Juvenile: Alex Gino, “George”
Young adult: Neal Shusterman, “Challenger Deep”; Andrew Smith, “The Alex Crow”
Poetry: Beth Murray, ”Cancer Angel”
Californiana: Tom Killion, “California’s Wild Edge”
Contribution to publishing: “The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers” edited by James Karman

California Book Awards
Where: Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F.
When: 6 p.m. June 13
Tickets: $10
Contact: (415) 597-6700,

California Book Awards. 85thCommonwealth ClubJill LeovyLiteratureLucia BerlinViet Thanh Nguyen

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Chelsea Hung, who owns Washington Bakery and Restaurant in Chinatown with her mother, said the restaurant is only making about 30 percent of pre-pandemic revenues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chinatown’s slow recovery has business owners fearing for the future

Lack of outside visitors threatens to push neighborhood into ‘downward spiral’

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stimulus plan on Monday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner file photo)
More Californians would get new $600 stimulus checks from the state under Newsom plan

Sophia Bollag The Sacramento Bee Two-thirds of Californians would get an extra… Continue reading

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and members of the orchestra were thrilled to be back inside Davies Symphony Hall on May 6 in a program for first responders featuring string works by Jean Sibelius, George Walker, Carl Nielsen, Caroline Shaw and Edward Grieg. (Courtesy Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Symphony)
SF Symphony makes joyful return to Davies Hall

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts program for first responders and community leaders

Students in an after-school community hub move quickly through a social circle as they play a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Parents scramble for ‘Summer Together’ spaces

City program offering free camps sees high demand, confusion over enrollment

Jazz pianist and composer Jon Jang is an instructor at Community Music Center in the Mission District. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Jon Jang composes bittersweet symphonies

Musician-activist’s works are steeped in civil rights history

Most Read