The winners of the 40th Los Angeles Times Book Prizes have been announced. Among the winners across 14 categories are the Zambian novelist Namwali Serpell and Booker Prize-winning Jamaican author Marlon James.

Serpell, who was nominated in two categories: the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the inaugural Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction emerged winner in the former category for her debut novel The Old Drift, which has been hailed as the “great Zambian novel.”

The Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction was awarded to Marlon James for his novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The Nigerian edition of the novel was released last year by Narrative Landscape Press.

Ethiopian author Maaza Mengiste was nominated in the Fiction category for her second novel The Shadow King, but Ben Lerner won the category for The Topeka School.

The award announcement was made via Twitter, including videos of acceptance speeches by some winning authors. For the first time since launching in 1980, the prizes — which traditionally kick off The Times’ weekend-long Festival of Books — were awarded without a physical ceremony due to social-distancing restrictions under the covid-19 pandemic.

In her acceptance speech, Serpell noted that it was a ‘strange time’ to be honored for a novel that is about an epidemic caused by a virus.

“These are dark times, yes, but that darkness, that void, is also a break from business as usual, a crack out of which maybe a revolution will emerge. It might feel impossible to do anything except survive” right now, but “art is survival too. So I say make art, paint it, record it, dance it, write it down.”

She finished her speech with a few lines from Bertolt Brecht’s’ ‘Svendborg Poems’: “In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing about the dark times. Thanks again, and keep singing.”

In his video response, James said:  “There’s something kind of ironic about winning an award in tribute to the creator of the original American dystopia when we are in a kind of dystopia.”

Serpell and James were thrilled by the news of their wins, as is evident from their comments on Twitter. See below.


Now in its fortieth year, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes recognize work in 14 categories: autobiographical prose; biography; current interest; fiction; first fiction; graphic novel/comics; history; mystery/thriller; poetry; science fiction; science and technology; and young-adult literature.

Brittle Paper congratulates Namwali Serpell and Marlon James.

See the rest of the winners here.