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2024 Fiction Judges

Sumbul Ali-Karamali earned her B.A. in English from Stanford University, her J.D. from the University of California at Davis, and her L.L.M. in Islamic law from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. She has practiced corporate law, taught Islamic law, and been a research associate at the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law in London. Her first book, The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing, was published in 2008 and was a Bronze Medal Winner of the 2009 Independent Book Awards; it was also chosen for Silicon Valley Reads 2012, a 14-citywide reading program. The Muslim Next Door also appeared on the American Academy of Religion’s Islam section list as a recommended text for teaching Islam in classrooms and the Huffington Post’s Eleven Must-Read Books by Muslim Authors. Her latest book, Demystifying Shari'ah: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It's Not Taking Over Our Country, was released in August 2020.

Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of The Dog of the North, published by Penguin Press and Fourth Estate/UK. Her novel The Portable Veblen was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction, winner of the California Book Award, and finalist for the Baileys Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and recorded for NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her collection, Stop That Girl, was short-listed for The Story Prize, and her novel MacGregor Tells the World was a Chicago TribuneSan Francisco Chronicle and Library Journal Best Book of the year. McKenzie received her MA from Stanford in English and Creative Writing and is the senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review and the managing editor of Catamaran.

Scott Setrakian is the President of the William Saroyan Foundation, co-sponsor with Stanford Libraries of the Saroyan Prize.  Scott received an A.B. in Human Biology and an MBA from Stanford University. As a senior at Stanford he was awarded “Best Undergraduate Short Story” for The Story of the Story of Elmer. In 2016 Scott was Executive Producer of the feature film Ithaca starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, based on William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy.  Scott has been Vice Chairman of, a venture studio that conceives and launches new artificial intelligence software companies, and co-founder and Managing Director of Applied Predictive Technologies, the world’s largest AI-based SaaS company, that pioneered the concept of “Test & Learn.”  He sits on the Boards of Directors of the William Saroyan Foundation, University Games, the Buena Vista Funds, and the San Francisco Zoo (emeritus).

2024 Nonfiction Judges

Mark Arax is an author and journalist whose writings on California and the West have received numerous awards for literary nonfiction. He is a former staffer at the Los Angeles Times and The California Sunday Magazine. His books include a memoir of his father's murder, a collection of essays about the West, and the best-selling The King of California, which won a California Book Award and the 2005 William Saroyan Prize for nonfiction from Stanford University, and was named a top book of 2004 by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lori Jakiela is the author of seven books, including the memoir Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, which received the 2016 William Saroyan Prize for nonfiction from Stanford University, was a finalist for the Community of Literary Magazine and Presses' Firecracker Award, and the Housatonic Book Award, and was named one of 20 Not-to-Miss Nonfiction Books of 2015 by The Huffington Post. Her most recent book, They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice: On Cancer, Love, and Living Even So, was published by Atticus Books in October 2023. Her most recent collection of poems, How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen? Poems at Mid-Life, received the 2021 Wicked Woman Prize from Baltimore's Brickhouse Books and was a September 2022 Book Club Read through Pittsburgh City Paper. A former international flight attendant, Jakiela directs the writing program at The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, teaches creative writing in the doctoral program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and leads many community workshops.

Fritz Kasten was an English major at the University of Iowa, with an emphasis on writing. He has never abandoned his interest in reading and in literature. His work, however, has been in the music business, first as a performing musician--with bands that included: Vince Guaraldi; Big Brother & the Holding Company; and the Berkeley-based, Joy of Cooking. He left performing in the early 1980s and began working as a producer, in artist management, and as a record company executive. He was an advisory board member of NARAS (National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences) and a member of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), now a part of the Screen Actor's Guild. He has a Master's Degree in Television production. Since retirement from the music business, Fritz has been active in the Roxburghe Club, a group of bibliophiles and fine-printers, and has continued to collect books in a number of disciplines.