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The 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes ceremony honors the best books of 2012

The 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were presented on Friday, April 19, 2013, 7:30 pm, in a public ceremony in the Bovard Auditorium on the campus of USC.

2012 Innovator’s Award Recipient

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood ›

2012 Kirsch Award Recipient

Kevin Starr
Kevin Starr ›

Los Angeles Times Book Prizes 2012 Winners
Current Interest
Graphic Novel/Comics
Mystery / Thriller
Science & Technology
The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
Young Adult Literature
2012 Innovator’s Award Recipient

Margaret Atwood ›
Does literature have a more graceful innovator than Margaret Atwood? Poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, children’s author, critic — throughout her career, she has regarded writing as an endeavor through which she might take on, literally, anything. Atwood was born in Ottawa, and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961. Her first book, the poetry collection “Double Persephone,” was self-published in the same year — a signifier, perhaps, of things to come. But it was really with the 1969 publication of her first novel, “The Edible Woman,” and especially the release three years later of “Surfacing,” that she began to attract a wide readership.

Such works have often been seen as feminist, a reading Atwood rejects because she was not writing with a particular social or political agenda in mind. This is essential in understanding her approach to literature; for Atwood, the most important thing has always been the story, which can (and even should) be idea driven, but which first and foremost is an expression of character, of narrative.

In 1985, Atwood published “The Handmaid’s Tale, which remains her best known novel; it was a finalist for the Booker Prize, and won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Taking place in an America turned Christian theocracy, it is a chilling piece of dystopian speculative fiction, and something of a cautionary tale. The book opened up a new vein in Atwood’s writing, which turned increasingly the speculative, with novels such as “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” — as well as the forthcoming “Maddaddam” — occupying a similar space.

In recent years, Atwood has embraced the digital landscape, seeing it as a way for writers to get their work into the world. In 2006, she invented the long pen, a device by which authors, and others, could sign books and documents remotely, and since 2010, she has been an enthusiastic user of social media. Last year, she hooked up with the digital publisher Byliner to produce a new work of speculative fiction, “Positron,” as a serial. She is also collaborating with Naomi Alderman on another digital serial, “The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home,” on the Toronto-based website Wattpad.com.

For Atwood, this is not so much a matter of innovation as it is one of survival; as she likes to say, technology is only important as a tool. The key remains, as it has always been, the writer’s voice, the writer’s vision — and it is for her unflagging faith in this that we present her with the 2012 Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award.

2012 Kirsch Award Recipient

Kevin Starr ›
It’s impossible to imagine the culture of contemporary California without Kevin Starr. Writer, historian, professor, state librarian emeritus: His influence extends everywhere. A native Northern Californian, he graduated from the University of San Francisco in 1962, before serving in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in then-West Germany. Upon returning home, he spent the next decade at Harvard, earning a master’s and a PhD in English and American literature and beginning his teaching career. But it was only in the early 1970s that his work began to find its form.

Partly, this had to do with Harvard, where, Starr has said, he discovered California as a graduate student. “This Yankee institution had a tremendous sense of the history of the West,” he told the Times’ Patt Morrison in 2009. “I started to browse on the fourth floor of the Widener Library in the California section, and suddenly it dawned on me. I thought, ‘There’s all kinds of wonderful books on California, but they don’t seem to have the point of view we’re encouraged to look at – the social drama of the imagination.’”

Starr decided to do something about that, producing the first volume of his landmark series “Americans and the California Dream” as his thesis. The sequence now numbers eight books, and with some gaps, covers the arc of the state’s history from 1850 through 2003. It is a daunting project: eclectic, comprehensive, full of insight into politics and culture, as well as California’s uneasy role as America’s dream factory. In this multi-volume effort, Starr has laid the groundwork for everything that has followed and will follow: There is no way to reckon with California without reckoning with what he has done.

And yet, “Americans and the California Dream” is just one piece of Starr’s achievement; he has written other books – most recently, a history of the Golden Gate Bridge – and influenced generations of students, especially at USC, where he has taught since 1989 and is now University Professor of History. As California State Librarian for a decade (he retired in 2004), he put a very public face on the history and literature of the state. Throughout it all, he has been a ubiquitous presence in the cultural conversation, encouraging us to think of California in all its glorious complexity. For these elegant and far-reaching contributions, we are delighted and honored to present him with the 2012 Robert Kirsch Award.

2013 Awards Ceremony Presenters


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