Sidya Bhanoo won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction during Monday’s 36th annual Oregon Book Awards for her novel Seeking Fortune Elsewhere. The ceremony, hosted by Live Wire public radio host Luke Burbank, took place in Portland Center Stage’s The Armory and gathered a lively crowd of bibliophiles — many of whom had books in hand from the Broadway Books table in the lobby.
During Bhanoo’s acceptance remarks, she marveled at the support of her community and family, thanking Oregon State University for helping relocate her from Texas to Corvallis. A driving inspiration behind her book, she said, was “to tell certain stories about quiet moments and brave decisions that often happen behind closed doors” and to bring to light stories that are often underrepresented.
Casey Parks of Portland won the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction for her widely celebrated memoir Diary of a Misfit, giving a heartfelt speech about her time growing up in a Southern household and referred to her move to Portland as finding a heaven. Parks then dedicated the award to individuals in the LGBTQ+ communities across the nation who may still be struggling to find acceptance, and “their heaven,” particularly in a trying time of increasing anti-Trans legislation.
After the long and gradual rebound from Zoom readings and virtual events during COVID-19, it was clear that “community” played a large role in the theme of the evening. The happiness of sitting in a room with fellow book lovers was apparent in the general joy and applause of the audience, and both Dane Liu, recipient of the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature for Friends Are Friends, Forever, and Waka T. Brown, winner of the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature for Dream, Annie, Dream, spoke proudly of their literary communities and supporters.
The Walt Morey Young Literary Legacy Award, presented by Programs for Writers Advisory Council member Armin Tolentino went to Dawn Babb Prochovnic for her life’s work in education advocacy and supporting literary enrichment programs in schools and libraries. Prochovnic, whom Tolentino introduced as “having captured the minds of a young Oregon generation,” urged the auditorium to take matters of reading into their own hands. Imagine what it would be like, she suggested, if each of the attendees did one action that helped encourage young people to read, place books into the hands of children, or aid an educator to create more access to books?
Gary Miranda, who received the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award presented by Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani, graciously thanked his wife for her support throughout the years, joking that he has yet to impress her and hopefully this award helps. In honor of April’s National Poetry Month, Miranda chose a poem to inspire the many writers in the room and read Like Snow aloud to a captive audience.
A total of 202 books from more than 40 Oregon towns were submitted for the awards, presented by Literary Arts, in seven categories. The other winners for 2023 were:
Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry: Eric Tran of Portland for Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke
Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction: Lauren Kessler of Eugene for Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home
Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama: Sara Jean Accuardi of Portland for The Storyteller