A Brief History of the Oregon Book Awards

Every year, the community-based non-profit, Literary Arts, presents ten awards for excellence in writing to the resident authors, poets, and publishers of Oregon. Submissions range from poetry chapbooks to graphic literature, and each award category is evaluated by three out-of-state judges who have experience in the genre. All of the awards have been named after a stand-out Oregon writer from the genre:

  • The Ken Kesey Award for Fiction
  • The Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry
  • The Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction
  • The Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction
  • The Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature
  • The Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature
  • The Charles Erskine Scott Wood Distinguished Writer Award
  • The Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award
  • The Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award
  • The Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama
  • The Graphic Literature Award
  • The Readers Choice Award

In the last five years, winners of the Ken Kesey Award have sold as many as sixty thousand book copies, but the award is not a guarantee for commercial success. Even three-time nonfiction awardee John Daniel sold just over one thousand five hundred copies of his 2011 winner, The Far Corner. Daniels has gone on to say, “Oregon Book Awards and Literary Fellowships have brought solace, encouragement, and modest material sustenance to scores of us, and to the famous and virtually unknown as well.”

Both funding and visibility were the primary goals for Brian Booth, who founded the Oregon Institute for Literary Arts in 1986 and held the first Oregon Book Awards the following year. Booth, a lawyer and fourth-generation Oregonian, was tireless in his advocacy for the preservation of both art and nature. Though the Oregon Institute for Literary Arts struggled, and later merged with Portland Arts and Lectures to become Literary Arts in 1993, the Oregon Book Awards and the Literary Fellowship program continue to flourish. Two years after Booth’s death in 2012, Literary Arts established a two million dollar endowment in his name: the Brian Booth Writer’s Fund. This isn’t Booth’s only legacy—a state park in Lincoln City, Oregon, also bears his name.

The Brian Booth Writer’s Fund is managed by the Oregon Community Foundation, and in 2021 it distributed two ten thousand dollar fellowships and thirteen additional fellowships of three thousand five hundred dollars. Since its founding, the program has honored over six hundred local writers and publishers and distributed more than one million dollars in fellowships and awards. While the Oregon Book Awards seeks to share financial support and recognition with writers throughout the state, Literary Art’s larger mission to inspire the next generation also plays a role.

In addition to receiving the award, winning authors attend a book tour to connect with readers across Oregon: they go to indie bookstores, libraries, and schools to do public readings and attend writing workshops. By connecting with readers and aspiring writers of all ages, Literary Arts uses the Book Awards to facilitate excellence throughout the state. Submissions closed on October 1 for the 2022 Oregon Book Awards—the winners will be announced next May—but it’s never too early to plan next year’s submission!

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