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Two from Creative Writing Strike Silver

Two UC Riverside Writers Strike Silver in California Book Awards

“GraceLand,” “Every Night is Ladies’ Night” win Commonwealth plaudits

(May 5, 2005)

Michael Jayme

Michael Jayme

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- Two faculty members from UC Riverside’s Department of Creative Writing have won silver medals in the 74th annual California Book Awards competition from the San Francisco-based Commonwealth Club.

Visiting Assistant Professor Chris Abani and Assistant Professor Michael Jayme, who writes under the name Michael Jaime-Becerra, will receive their medals during a ceremony at the club on June 14, said Barbara Lane, the Commonwealth Club’s literary director.

Jaime-Becerra’s award, in the first fiction category, is for “Every Night is Ladies’ Night,” his debut collection of inter-related short stories set in Southern California, which was published by Rayo, Harper-Collins’ Latino imprint. He is a graduate of UCR’s Creative Writing Department and UC Irvine’s Master of Fine Arts program.

Abani’s award, in the fiction category, is for his novel “GraceLand,” published last year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is the story of a teenage Elvis Presley impersonator struggling to find a way out of the underworld of Lagos, Nigeria. “GraceLand” also won the 2005 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Abani is finishing a doctorate in English and creative writing from USC.

The gold medal for fiction went to Andrew Sean Greer’s “The Confessions of Max Tivoli,” Hale said.

The Commonwealth Club, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public affairs forum established in 1903, has recognized more than 450 literary works by California's writers, poets and publishers since 1931, Hale said. Literary historians count the California Book Awards program as an early hailer of John Steinbeck, who won three gold medals between 1935 and 1939. The club’s choice of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1939 triggered a series of protests throughout the state, Hale said. Many readers thought the club should not have acknowledged a book that portrayed California in such a poor light.

Other literary figures who have won California Book Awards since 1931 include C.S. Forester, William Saroyan, Wallace Stegner, Amy Tan and Susan Straight, professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, who won the 2002 gold medal for fiction for her fifth novel, “Highwire Moon.”

Chris AbaniEnlarge

Chris Abani

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