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UCR Novelist Wins Gold Medal

California Book Award Goes to UCR’s Susan Straight

(March 28, 2002)

Susan StraightSusan Straight, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, has won the Gold Medal for Fiction from the San Francisco-based Commonwealth Club for her fifth novel, “Highwire Moon.”

A National Book Award finalist, “Highwire Moon” details the lives of Serafina, an undocumented a Mexican-Indian immigrant torn way from her American-born daughter, Elvia, during an immigration raid. “Highwire Moon” traces their struggle to reunite despite grinding poverty, backbreaking toil, the seamy Southern California subculture of methamphetamine addicts and the foster care system.

By coincidence, Straight is scheduled to give a free public reading at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at the UCR Extension Center, 1200 University Ave., Riverside. The reading is part of the Riverside Public Library Spring 2002 Authors’ series. Parking is free.

“We are so excited and delighted to feature her in readings and workshops around Riverside,” said Kathryn Morton, cultural programs coordinator at the library. “She is internationally known and extraordinarily talented, but she is also Riverside’s own writer and a lifelong supporter of all this library has to offer. Her topics are directly related to our city and our people. Her wellspring is Riverside and she is constantly contributing, in an honest and caring way, back to all of us.”

Other literary figures who have won California Book Awards since 1931 include John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, Wallace Stegner and Amy Tan. The gold medal comes with a $2,000 prize. Other gold medallists in this year’s competition are Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor for his non-fiction work “American Colonies” and the poet and Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz for “New and Collected Poems 1931-2001.”

Straight’s other critically acclaimed fiction includes “Aquaboogie,” “I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots,” “The Gettin’ Place,” and “Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights.” She has also written two children’s books, “Bear E. Bear” and “The Hallway Light at Night.” Straight sets all her novels in the fictional town of Rio Seco, California, a loose parallel to her hometown, Riverside. Among her awards are the prestigious Lannan Foundation Award in 1999 and a 1997 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The California Book Awards competition is sponsored by The Commonwealth Club of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public affairs forum established in 1903. Since 1931, the Club has recognized more than 400 exceptional literary works by California's writers, poets and publishers.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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