In addition to the new graphic novel category, The Times will also present its first Innovators Award, which will go to author and publisher Dave Eggers for his multifaceted, spirited commitment to literature. Eggers leads the trend-bucking San Francisco independent publisher McSweeney's, which offers books, magazines and a shape-shifting quarterly journal. He also founded the 826 literacy centers -- which operate in Los Angeles and six other cities -- to help at-risk kids ages 6-18 engage with the written word.
A bestselling author, Eggers and his work continue to garner critical attention; his most recent book "Zeitoun" is a finalist for The Times' 2009 current interest prize.
The Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, which honors writers connected to the American West, will go to Evan S. Connell, best known for his paired novels "Mrs. Bridge" (1959) and "Mr. Bridge" (1969), as well as his biography of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, "Son of the Morning Star," which won a 1985 Times Book Prize.
Five finalists have been announced in each book category: biography, current interest, fiction, graphic novel, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science/technology, young adult literature and the Art Seidenbaum Award for first fiction.
The graphic novel finalists include a new take on the classic "Love & Rockets" series by Gilbert Hernandez; Joe Sacco's work of comic book journalism "Footnotes in Gaza," David Mazzuchelli's "Asterios Polyp," Taiyo Matsumoto's "GoGo Monster" and Bryan Lee O' Malley's Gen-Y favorite "Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe."
In current interest, finalists reflect an interest in how America intersects with the world. Both "Zeitoun" and Tracy Kidder's "Strength in What Remains" trace the unexpected paths of immigrants, while T.R. Reid's "The Healing of America" looks at healthcare systems of other industrialized nations in relation to our own.
Local author Michelle Huneven, who is also in the running for a National Book Critics Circle Award for her novel "Blame," is nominated for the fiction prize, along with Kate Walbert, Jane Gardam, Jill Ciment and Rafael Yglesias, the last of whom has returned to fiction after a 13-year hiatus.
The prizes will be awarded in connection with the 15th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which takes place April 24 and 25 at UCLA. Last year, more than 130,000 people attended the festival; many Book Prize finalists will participate in panels, discussions and signings.
Announcing the first Los Angeles Times Book Prizes in 1980, then-book editor Art Seidenbaum wrote, "This is not so much a competition as a recognition."
For a complete list of 2009 finalists, visit latimes.com/bookprizes.