Literary Arts, a Portland-based nonprofit group formed to promote Oregon literature, announced on Monday evening that it had awarded its annual Oregon Book Award to seven books out of more than 200 books which had been nominated.
The traditional live ceremony was cancelled due to the current pandemic, in favor of a radio broadcast in which previous winners Omar El-Akkad, author of “American War,” and Elena Passarello, author of “Animals Strike Curious Poses,” spoke of their own experiences of winning the OBA, before naming the authors honored in 2020 – each of whom read from their books or spoke briefly about them. Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate, announced the poetry award and special awards.
The winning authors who read excerpts from or discussed their books on the broadcast each received $1,000.
The Ken Kesey Award for Fiction was awarded to Kesha Ajọsẹ Fisher of Portland, who wrote “No God Like the Mother.” Fisher’s perspective as a Nigerian American woman informs this collection of nine stories whose characters often struggle to keep a firm grasp on identity and relationships.
Ashley Toliver of Portland received the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry for “Spectra.” This three-part collection runs a finger along dual-edged swords – creation on one side, destruction on the other – wielded by both our relationships and our bodies.
The Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction went to David Wolman and Julian Smith of Portland for “Aloha Rodeo:” Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West. The 1908 Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming was made memorable by the attendance of three Hawaiians who expanded the definition of “cowboy” as described in this vivid history.
Beth Alvarado of Bend received the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction for “Anxious Attachments,“ a collection of essays on addiction, environmental racism, and mourning in a compassionate, unsentimental fashion.
The Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature went to Cathy Camper of Portland. Camper’s “Lowriders Blast from the Past” is a graphic novel in English and Spanish in which three kids share a love of cars and a desire to find a way to deal with a gang of bullies.
Deborah Hopkinson of West Linn won the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature for “How I Became A Spy: A Mystery of WWII.“ Being a bike messenger in the streets of London is a contribution to the war effort, Bertie tells himself, even if it is a small one. Then he finds a notebook containing what seems to be coded messages.
Greg Means and M.K. Reed of Portland received the award for Graphic Literature for “Penny Nichols,“ a light-hearted story of an attempt by a group of fans to make a slasher horror film that salutes the power of improvisation and friendship.
Literary Arts also announced this year’s winners of three special awards:
The Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award was awarded to Reading Results, which supports childhood literacy in Portland.
The Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award was given to Write Around Portland, which works for social equality through writing.
The C.E.S. Wood Award went to Lawson Inada of Ashland, who served as Oregon’s fifth poet laureate from 2006 to 2010.
Listen to the finalists read from their work at the Literary Arts website.
John M. Burt