Lidia Yuknavitch Mops Up With Two Wins at Oregon Book Awards

Other winners include Carl Adamshick, Brian Doyle, David Biespiel

The first time Lidia Yuknavitch hit the stage at the Oregon Book Awards April 11 at the Gerding Theater, she all but sprinted to the podium. The second time, you almost worried she wouldn't make it; the author was crying too hard.

Yuknavitch took home two Oregon Book Awards—both the Reader's Choice Award voted in by the public, and the Ken Kesey Award for the best work of fiction published by an Oregon writer.

This was a feat achieved once before, by Willy Vlautin in 2011 for his novel Lean on Pete. Yuknavitch previously won the Reader's Choice award in 2012, for her memoir The Chronology of Water.

If the 2015 Oregon Book Awards were remarkable for the number of women writers and debut authors to win major awards, 2016 included a number of familiar names; it was also full of people from the Portland area, the home of every single author to win a prize.

Carl Adamshick won his second Oregon Book Award in as many books, for his poetry collection Saint Friend, which WW praised upon its release for its "rare ability to make the absurd and disjunctive seem particular and intimate."

"I love you Carl!" yelled a voice from the audience.

"Wow," said Adamshick. "Maybe I'll love you back someday."

Brian Doyle, meanwhile, was until this year the Oregon Book Awards' Susan Lucci, nine times nominated and a finalist in two categories this year: young adult and creative nonfiction.

His losing streak is over; the novelist and essayist (and near-clincher in each year's Best American Essays collection) won an OBA for his young adult novel Martin Marten, about a marten named Martin.

Poet and poetry critic David Biespiel won for his book of writings from his now-discontinued poetry column in the Oregonian, believed to be the longest running poetry column in any newspaper. This is his second Oregon Book Award; he won previously for his book of poetry, The Book of Men and Women, in 2011.

Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke won the graphic literature award for their book the Zoo Box; Steinke commemorated the award by reading his student Mercedes' work, which he called better than anything he will ever write.

"Winter rain pelted the roof. 3020 was a miserable year," began his student's story, whose climax was the sudden appearance of a wookie in the town Wookie-nator. "The wookie opened its eyes and farted. And with that it ran out of City Hall."

Kate Carroll de Gutes won the creative nonfiction prize for her memoir, Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, which included a stirring account of her first transformative moment wearing a tuxedo, and her experience coming out in 1978, "5 years after homosexuality was considered a mental illness."

De Gutes also memorialized her book's editor, author Judith Kitchen, who died of cancer in November 2014, just two days after turning in de Gutes' book.

Barbara Kerley won in the children's literature category for her book, With a Friend by Your Side, while Corvallis-Benton County librarian Curtis Kiefer won an award for his decades of work with young readers.

A highlight was writer Jon Raymond's presentation of the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award to poet, anarch, raconteur and longtime Satyricon poetry open-mic organizer Doug Spangle.

"Why do kids move here?" Raymond asked in his introduction. "The culture Doug created," an "alternative literary community" and "potluck for mental patients."

Spangle, after blessing poet Walt Curtis' "crusty heart," touted his role as "utility infielder of Oregon poetry" and praised the role of open mics before telling everyone an actual schedule of when they all were. For the record: Mondays at Sound Grounds, Tuesdays at the Rialto Corner Bar, and Wednesdays at Common Grounds.

But Yuknavitch closed out the night.

"I picked that passage because I thought this will never happen," Yuknavitch said through streaming tears, after awards show host Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl who Fell From the Sky, read a graphic passage from Yuknavitch's book. "That's a woman painting with her own menstrual blood."

After a speech, in part, about the power of writing to remove borders between people, she thanked Literary Arts for "the hard work of supporting writers," then paused for a moment. "We are pretty fucked up people," she said.

Anyway, here's the full list of nominees and judges, with winners in bold.


Judge: Chinelo Okparanta

Arthur Bradford of Portland, Turtleface and Beyond (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Gail Chehab of Portland, The Tunnel (Media Aria)

Valerie Geary of Portland, Crooked River (William Morrow)

Molly Gloss of Portland, Falling from Horses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Lidia Yuknavitch of Portland, The Small Backs of Children (HarperCollins)


Judge: Spencer Reece

Carl Adamshick of Portland, Saint Friend (McSweeney's)

Jessica Johnson of Portland, In Absolutes We Seek Each Other (New Michigan Press)

Andrew Michael Roberts of Portland, Good Beast (Burnside Review)

Pepper Trail of Ashland, Cascade-Siskiyou (Painted Thrush Press)

John Witte of Eugene, Disquiet (University of Washington Press)


Judge: Akiko Busch

David Biespiel of Portland, A Long High Whistle (Antilever Press)

Lily Brooks-Dalton of Portland, Motorcycles I've Loved (Riverhead Books)

William Deresiewicz of Portland, Excellent Sheep (Simon & Schuster)

Rosemarie Ostler of Eugene, Founding Grammars (St. Martin's Press)

Tim Palmer of Port Orford, Field Guide to Oregon Rivers (OSU Press)


Judge: Domingo Martinez

Kate Carroll de Gutes of Portland, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (Ovenbird Books)

Barbara Drake of Yamhill, Morning Light (OSU Press)

Brian Doyle of Lake Oswego, Children and Other Wild Animals (OSU Press)

Elizabeth Enslin of Enterprise, While the Gods Were Sleeping (Seal Press)

Nick Jaina of Portland, Get It While You Can (Perfect Day Publishing)


Judge: Peter H. Reynolds

Kim Griswell of Ashland, Rufus Goes to Sea (Sterling Publishing)

Barbara Kerley of Portland, With a Friend by Your Side (National Geographic Society)

Marie and Roland Smith of Wilsonville, T is For Time (Sleeping Bear Press)

Heather Vogel Frederick of Portland, Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery (Simon & Schuster)


Judge: Deb Caletti

Brian Doyle of Lake Oswego, Martin Marten (St. Martin's Press)

Fonda Lee of Portland, Zeroboxer (Flux)

William Ritter of Springfield, Jackaby (Algonquin Young Readers)

Graham Salisbury of Lake Oswego, Hunt for the Bamboo Rat (Wendy Lamb Books)

Hilary T. Smith of Portland, A Sense of the Infinite (HarperCollins)


Judge: Gabrielle Bell

Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke of Portland, The Zoo Box (First Second Books)

Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan of Portland, Oh Joy Sex Toy: Volume 2 (Erika Moen Comics & Illustration)

Jeff Parker of Portland, Meteor Men (Oni Press)

Elizabeth Rusch and Mike Lawrence of Portland, Muddy Max (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover of Portland, Bandette Volume 2: Stealers, Keepers! (Dark Horse Comics)

Willamette Week

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.