Daniel Mason wins California Book Awards’ top fiction prize

Daniel Mason, a Palo Alto psychiatrist and novelist, is the winner of the 2021 California Book Awards gold medal in fiction for his short story collection, "A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth." (Photo courtesy Sara Houghteling)

It’s official: Author Daniel Mason will now have his name forever linked to those of famed predecessors John Steinbeck, Wallace Stegner and Joan Didion, as his latest work, “A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth” (Little, Brown and Company), has just captured the top fiction prize handed out by the California Book Awards jury.

The 90th annual awards, administered by the Commonwealth Club of California, also are going to 10 other recipients, all California authors or publishers of books that came out last year. They will be honored at a hybrid live/virtual awards ceremony to be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 and made viewable at www.commonwealthclub.org.

Mason, whose collection of nine short stories was also nominated for a Pulitzer in fiction this year, is a Palo Alto psychiatrist affiliated with Stanford University and the author of three novels: “The Piano Tuner” (2002), “A Far Country” (2007) and “The Winter Soldier” (2018).

Among the other gold medalists for this year are C. Pam Zhang of San Francisco, a winner in first fiction for her debut novel, “How Much of These Hills Is Gold” (Riverhead Books), and historian Alice L. Baumgartner of Los Angeles, whose “South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War” (Basic Books) took the nonfiction prize.

In the juvenile books category, Ernesto Cisneros, a public school teacher in Santa Ana, is the winner for “Efrén Divided” (Quill Tree Books), while Oakland’s Cynthia Salaysay captured the young adult medal for her first book, “Private Lessons” (Candlewick Press).

Nathalie Khankan, who teaches in the Near Eastern Studies department at UC Berkeley, is the poetry gold medalist for “Quiet Orient Riot” (Omnidawn), and the father-son team of Stanford University historian Richard White and documentary photographer Jesse Amble White won in the Californiana category for “California Exposures: Envisioning Myth and History” (W.W. Norton & Company).

A special gold medal for contribution to publishing is going to Sunbelt Publications, which released “A Natural History of the Anza-Borrego Region,” co-authored by retired University of San Diego biology professor Marie Simovich and her husband, Mike Wells.

Charles Yu of Irvine won the California Book Awards fiction silver medal for his novel, “Interior Chinatown”, which also won the 2020 National Book Award for fiction. (Photo courtesy Tina Chiou)

Three other authors will receive silver medals: Charles Yu of Irvine for fiction, whose novel “Interior Chinatown” (Pantheon/Vintage) also won the National Book Award; Oakland-based New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty in nonfiction for “Golden Gates: The Housing Crisis and a Reckoning for the American Dream” (Penguin Press); and Los Angeles native Christina Hammonds Reed in the young adult category for “The Black Kids” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers).

Tickets for the awards ceremony, with some of the authors onstage and others participating virtually, are $10-$15 and will go on sale sometime during the week of July 19 at www.commonwealthclub.org.

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