US National Book Foundation: Paul Yamazaki Wins the Literarian Award

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For more than 50 years a bookseller at City Lights, San Francisco’s Paul Yamazaki is the National Book Awards’ Literarian laureate.

Paul Yamazaki. Image, Stacey Lewis and the National Book Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Steinberger: ‘A Culture-Shifting Impact on Bookselling’
While the 2023 National Book Awards won’t be fully announced and celebrated until November 15, this is the time of year when one of the premiere American publishing awards program names the first of its two major lifetime achievement awards. Within about a week, the program will begin releasing its longlists for the year.

Today (August 6), the National Book Foundation has announced that Paul Yamazaki is the 19th recipient of the program’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Yamazaki is the principal buyer at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in San Francisco.

And so it is that this Californian bookseller now joins a list of honorees including Maya Angelou; Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Dave Eggers; Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.; Richard Robinson; Carolyn Reidy; and, just last year, Tracie D. Hall.

Having started his work at City Lights as a part-time clerk in 1970, Yamazaki, the program says, has mentored generations of booksellers. He’s to be honored in the ceremony on November 15 by the former Literarian Award recipient and fellow bookseller Mitchell Kaplan. The evening is to be hosted by Drew Barrymore with Oprah Winfrey as a special guest at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

Dickey: ‘Devotion to the Art of Bookselling’

Final selections for this award are made by the National Book Foundation’s board of directors.

Recipients of the Literarian Award receive US$10,000 and a brass medal.

David Steinberger, the National Book Foundation board chair, in reference to the news of Yamazaki’s award, is quoted today, saying, “Paul Yamazaki’s career has had an irreplaceable, culture-shifting impact on bookselling, independent bookstores, and publishing at large.

David Steinberger

“Over more than five decades, Paul has brought exceptional national and global literature to readers in San Francisco and beyond. Yamazaki’s legacy has demonstrated the power of connecting the right book to the right reader at the right time, both to move book sales and to center voices that better reflect the country’s diversity of readers.

“The Foundation is gratified to be able to recognize his contributions to the national literary landscape with this lifetime achievement award.”

Ruth Dickey

And the National Book Foundation’s executive director Ruth Dickey says, “A beloved member of the literary community, Paul Yamazaki and his devotion to the art of bookselling have influenced countless booksellers.

“For more than 50 years, Yamazaki has nurtured thoughtful conversations around books with writers, publishers, and readers, and he continues to be an inspiring force for the independent bookstore community.

“We’re proud to celebrate his remarkable career with the 2023 Literarian Award.”

It’s being pointed out that Yamazaki has been a board member with several influential organizations including the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP); Small Press Distribution; and the Kearney Street Workshop.

In the 1960s, he took part in the San Francisco State College Strike—the longest student strike in US history, an event that led to the establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State College. He has also been a supporter of the Black Panther Party and was arrested multiple times, the National Book Foundation points out, for protesting exclusionary policies and participating in “Stop the Draft” demonstrations, culminating in a six-month prison sentence.

On November 15, a stream will be made available from the National Book Awards, and you can register for it here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards in the United States is here and more on the huge field of international book awards and prizes is here. More from us on the United States’ market is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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