Arts Listings

Five Berkeley Authors Win Northern California Book Awards

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 07:00:00 PM

"An East Bay Sweep!” reads a press release for the Northern California Book Awards, presented last Sunday in the 28th annual ceremony in the Koret Auditorium in the San Francisco Main Library. 

In fact, of the eight awards presented, seven went to East Bay authors—five of them Berkeley residents—with the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement going to Berkeley’s Dorothy Bryant (see the Daily Planet’s April 16 story). 

In fiction, the winner was Sylvia Browning of Berkeley, with Delivery Room, her third novel, about a Serbian psychotherapist practicing in London, concerned about her family’s fate in the fighting in former Yugoslavia, where “delivery” takes on the added meaning of NATO air strikes in Kosovo. 

In general nonfiction, UC Berkeley professor and Berkeley resident Richard A. Muller won for a book based on the textbook he wrote for his class for non-scientists, Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines, billed as “the knowledge needed to survive the ... political and increasingly nuclear contemporary world.” 

Well-known composer and Berkeley resident John Adams won the award for creative nonfiction with Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life. Named after the meeting of roadways in the Sierra where Adams had a major realization about his career (long dubbed a “Minimalist,” Adams hears Wagner’s Gotterdamerung playing, and realizes he’s been missing the rich textures of post-Romantic orchestration). Poet and former KPFA music programmer David Gitin says Adams’ memoir is “a good-spirited book, about his interesting upbringing and the early days of his career, caught up in electronic music. He talks critically of recording and of later developments of Minimalism, examines his ‘love/hate’ feelings about other composers’ music, is encouraging to young musicians—and plays himself down at every opportunity.” 

For the award in poetry, Richmond resident Rusty Morrison was chosen for her book the true keeps calm biding its story, billed as “the silvery underside of elegy,” in which the poem’s narrator reconciles herself to loss in the aftermath of her father’s death. The book also won the 2007 Sawtooth Poetry Prize and the 2008 James Laughlin Award. 

For translation, Katherine Schev of Berkeley won for her translation from Spanish of Honduran-born Horacio Castellanos Moya’s novel Senseless, in which the narrator, hired by the church to copy-edit a thousand-page report on an unnamed Central American military’s massacres of indigenous people, finds poetry in the testimony. Castellanos Moya’s style has been compared to the late Austrian author Thomas Bernhardt. 

For children’s literature, Pamela S. Turner of Oakland won for A Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts, about the work the scientist involved with animal conservation (who figured in Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard) has done in Asia, Africa and Alaska’s North Slope.