NEW YORK — The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, on Sept. 6 announced Paul Yamazaki, principal buyer at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in San Francisco, as the recipient of its 2023 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
Starting out as a part-time clerk at City Lights in 1970, Yamazaki has mentored generations of booksellers, and his collaborative approach to bookselling has elevated countless authors, shaping the nation’s literary landscape for over 50 years.
A champion for books, writers, publishers, and independent bookstores, Yamazaki will be presented with the Literarian Award by past recipient and revered bookseller Mitchell Kaplan at the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on Nov. 15.
“Paul Yamazaki’s career has had an irreplaceable, culture-shifting impact on bookselling, independent bookstores, and publishing at large,” said David Steinberger, chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “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.”
An advocate for considering the intersections of race, culture, and socio-economics in bookselling, writing, and publishing, Yamazaki has served on the boards of several literary and community arts organizations, including the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP), Small Press Distribution (SPD), and Kearney Street Workshop (KSW).
As a bookseller at City Lights, Yamazaki reads widely and is committed to supporting the work of new and established authors across genres, from publishers small and large, in order to appeal to all kinds of readers. Under his stewardship, the bookstore carefully curates a collection of books that includes literary fiction, poetry, works in translation, and more that celebrates what Yamazaki calls “alternative literary voices,” and to which he credits the bookstore’s exceptionally diverse staff hand-picking titles that reflect a variety of interests and life experiences.
“A beloved member of the literary community, Paul Yamazaki and his devotion to the art of bookselling have influenced countless booksellers,” said Ruth Dickey, executive director of the National Book Foundation. “For over 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 are proud to celebrate his remarkable career with the 2023 Literarian Award.”
In the 1960s, Yamazaki participated in the San Francisco State College Strike — the longest student strike in U.S. history, which led to the establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State College; was a vocal supporter of the Black Panther Party; and was arrested multiple times for protesting exclusionary policies and participating in “Stop the Draft” demonstrations, culminating in a six-month prison sentence. Yamazaki was released early after securing a job at City Lights and, as far as he knows, is the only independent bookseller to become a bookseller directly after serving a jail sentence.
Yamazaki is the 19th recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which is given to an individual or organization for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading. Past recipients include Dr. Maya Angelou, Terry Gross, Kyle Zimmer, the literary organization Cave Canem, Doron Weber, Oren J. Teicher, Carolyn Reidy, Nancy Pearl, and most recently, Tracie D. Hall.
Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award winners, finalists, and judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country. Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors. Recipients of the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community receive $10,000 and a solid brass medal.
The 74th National Book Awards will be hosted by Drew Barrymore and feature special guest Oprah Winfrey at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The in-person ceremony and dinner, which will be broadcast live for readers everywhere, will include the presentation of the foundation’s two lifetime achievement awards and the 2023 National Book Award winners in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. For more information and to register for the broadcast, visit nationalbook.org/Awards.
About Paul Yamazaki
Paul Yamazaki has been a bookseller at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers since 1970 and has been the principal buyer there for more than 50 years.
He was once a member of the jury that selected the 21 writers that were included in “Granta Best Young American Novelists 2,” which was published in the spring of 2007.
Yamazaki participated as a panelist in The Translation Market, a world literature and translation summit, and as a delegate of American booksellers invited to attend the Beijing Book Fair. He has also participated at the Oxford Conference for the Book at the University of Mississippi, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and the Jaipur Literary Festival.
Yamazaki was on the jury for the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and was a recipient of the Litquake Barbary Coast Award.
Yamazaki has worked with the following organizations: the National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Fund, Ford Foundation, Headlands Center for the Arts, American Booksellers Association, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, National Book Foundation, Creative Work Fund, and many others.
About Mitchell Kaplan
Mitchell Kaplan, a native of Miami Beach, opened the first Books & Books in 1982 in Coral Gables, Fla. Now with four South Florida locations, Books & Books hosts over 400 events per year. In addition, the original Coral Gables location is home to the well-established Café at Books & Books, and there are Books & Books=affiliated stores at Miami International Airport and in Key West, where he collaborates with the noted author Judy Blume and her husband, George Cooper.
Among his honors, Kaplan served as president of the American Booksellers Association, and he received the 2011 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community from the National Book Foundation. Books & Books also received Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year Award in 2015. He now serves on the board of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
As co-founder of the Miami Book Fair in 1985, Kaplan has served as the chairperson of its board and continues to guide the programming team at the fair, which takes place on the campus of Miami Dade College in the heart of downtown Miami. Each year, the fair presents close to 500 authors over one week in November, along with a street festival where bookstalls line the streets adjacent to the campus. Programming takes place in Creole, Spanish, and English, reflecting the diversity of Miami.
Kaplan, with his partner Paula Mazur, established The Mazur Kaplan Company to bring books to the screen, both in film and television. His most recent release is “Let Him Go” starring Diane Lane and Kevin Costner.
He also hosts the podcast “The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan,” broadcast from Miami, where he lives with his wife, Rachelle. They have three children, Anya, Daniel, and Jonah.
The mission of the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, is to celebrate the best literature published in the U.S., expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in our culture.
The foundation approaches this work from four programmatic angles: Awards & Honors recognize exceptional authors, advocates, literature, and literary programs; Education & Access initiatives foster a lifelong passion for books in young and adult readers; Public Programs bring acclaimed authors to communities nationwide to engage in conversations about books and showcase the power of literature as a tool for understanding our world; and Service to the Literary Field, provides support to the national literary ecosystem. Information on all of the foundation’s programs can be found online at nationalbook.org.
The National Book Awards, established in 1950, are among the nation’s most prestigious literary prizes and have a stellar record of identifying and rewarding quality writing. Many previous winners are now firmly established in the canon of American literature, including Elizabeth Acevedo, Robert A. Caro, Ralph Ellison, Louise Erdrich, Nikky Finney, Ibram X. Kendi, Adrienne Rich, Arthur Sze, Maurice Sendak, and Jesmyn Ward.