About Lawrence Coates

Lawrence Coates grew up in El Cerrito, California.  He spent four years as a Quartermaster in the Coast Guard, and four more years in the Merchant Marine, working as an Able-bodied Seaman and Third Mate.  During his time at sea, he sailed in the North Atlantic, the Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean, and he served aboard a fleet oiler in the Arabian Sea during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  

He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz and gained fluency in Spanish while studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. He also worked for a brief period as a freelance journalist, placing a cover story about the U.S.-Mexican border in the Sunday supplement of The Chicago Tribune.  

After completing a master’s degree at Berkeley, he taught for a year in the Lycée Charlemagne in Paris and then went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Utah.

His first novel, The Blossom Festival, won the Western States Book Award for Fiction and was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Series. His second novel, The Master of Monterey, was published in 2003, and his third novel, The Garden of the World, was published in 2012 and won the Nancy Dasher Award from the College English Association of Ohio.  

In 2015, he published The Goodbye House, a novel set amid the housing tracts of San José in the aftermath of the first dot com bust and the attacks of 9/11.  Also in 2015, he published a novella, Camp Olvido, set in a labor camp in California’s Great Central Valley.   

His work has been recognized with the Donald Barthelme Prize in Short Prose, the Miami University Press Novella Prize, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction.  He is currently a professor of creative writing at Bowling Green State University.

Coates writes with clarity and grace, solidifying his place in the canon of great California literature.

—MIchelle Richmond

Coates is one of a handful of contemporary American novelists who write about agriculture and the social life of communities of the soil. I find his work fascinating because of it. He is part of the literary thrust to recapture and reimagine lost worlds, and we as readers are the better for it. Coates is a unique and significant presence.

—W. Jack Hicks

The judges were especially struck by The Blossom Festival’s almost Hardyesque sense of fateful change, embodied in a seemingly permanent way of life that is in fact perishing … the author has undertaken a large subject and handled it with the most unassuming skill and power.

—Judges’ Citation for the Western States Book Award

California’s extravagant, irresponsible, tragic history is so often absurd that only a magical realist can tell it.  Lawrence Coates’s deadpan farce joyfully captures the superb incompetence of everybody involved in the two-day conquest of Monterey by a United States Navy ship in 1842.  Still, what I will remember longest of this endearing novel is its unspoken tenderness.  It’s not a joke, in the end, but an elegy.

—Ursula K. Le Guin