Susan Straight’s newest novel, “Mecca,” is one of 18 books shortlisted for the 2022 Kirkus Prize.
Straight, a distinguished professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, published “Mecca” in March. The novel has fictional characters, but all are inspired by true stories or events that have occurred in California’s Inland Empire. “Mecca’s” backdrop includes Interstates 10, 91, and 5, where character Johnny Frías, a 39-year-old California Highway Patrol officer, has to deal with encountering love, death, and disrespectful drivers who question his brown skin and the citizenship they associate with it.
According to news release issued by Kirkus, winners receive a $50,000 cash award. Judges for the fiction prize were: author Deesha Philyaw, bookseller Luis Correa, Kirkus critic Wendy Smith, and Kirkus fiction editor Laurie Muchnick. Winners will be announced Oct. 27 in a ceremony at the Austin Central Library in Austin, Texas.
Straight was on an important roadtrip when she received the call.
“Having just driven through San Bernardino County, thinking about the history of our region, it was even more gratifying to hear that this beloved Southern California landscape in the novel, from Santa Ana to Coachella, from San Bernardino to Hollywood, was being recognized nationally,” Straight said. “I was on my way to scatter my dad's ashes in his native hometown in eastern Canada, and that also led me to reflect that he and my mother, who met in citizenship class at the Riverside courthouse, loved the deserts and mountains of Southern California. They took me to Mecca and Indio when I was very young, laying the groundwork for this novel's scenes in the date palm gardens and Joshua Trees.”