This morning the Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard announced the five winners of the 2019 Lukas Prize Project Awards. Established in 1998, the Lukas Prize Project honors the best in American nonfiction writing, presenting awards in three categories annually.
Congratulations to all the winners!
J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize ($10,000)
The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize recognizes superb examples of nonfiction writing that exemplify the literary grace, the commitment to serious research, and the original reporting that characterized the distinguished work of the award’s namesake, J. Anthony Lukas. Books must be on a topic of American political or social concern published between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018.
Judges: Dale Russakoff (chair), Nate Blakeslee, and Amy Goldstein.
Winner: Shane Bauer’s American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment (Penguin Press)
“American Prison is both the remarkable story of a journalist who spent four months working as a corrections officer, and a horrifying exposé of how prisoners were treated by a corporation that profited from them … Bauer’s insights into what some call the ‘prison-industrial complex’ are fascinating, and the history he provides offers crucial context into his time working at a CCA facility. It’s Bauer’s investigative chops, though, that make American Prison so essential … The stories he tells are deeply sad and consistently infuriating … American Prison is an enraging, necessary look at the private prison system, and a convincing clarion call for prison reform.”
-Michael Schaub (NPR)
Mark Lynton History Prize ($10,000)
The Mark Lynton History Prize is awarded to the book-length work of narrative history, on any subject, that best combines intellectual distinction with felicity of expression. Books must have been published between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018. This year, two Lynton Prizes will be presented.
Judges: Elizabeth Taylor (chair), Annette Gordon-Reed, and David Greenberg.
Winner: Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War (Penguin Press)
“Distinguished professor of American Studies at Columbia Delbanco examines the untenable paradox of America’s founding on democracy and liberty and dependence on slavery through the stories of those who resisted enslavement by attempting to escape. Delbanco traces the crafting of and attempts to enforce Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, known as the fugitive slave clause, which criminalized the sheltering of fugitive slaves and called on local authorities to help return them to slavers … Delbanco provides a fresh and illuminating look at those who held fast to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in unspeakably oppressive and brutal times.”
-Grace Jackson-Brown (Booklist)
Winner: Jeffrey C. Stewart’s The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press)
“In describing Locke’s life as a black man, a thinker and fighter in social causes, and a homosexual, Stewart, professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, must in a way describe many different Alain Lockes. That such a gripping and cohesive narrative could be forged out of such fractured material is no mean accomplishment … Stewart’s literary analysis of this movement and its many works, offshoots, and descendants is unerringly sharp and interesting, and he refreshingly includes as much that speaks against his subject as speaks for him … Jeffrey Stewart has written the definitive study that life has always warranted – and, fittingly, he’s made it excellent reading in the process.”
-Steve Donoghue (The Christian Science Monitor)
J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Awards (two $25,000 prizes)
The J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Awards are given annually to aid in the completion of significant works of nonfiction on American topics of political or social concern. The committee envisions the awards as a way of closing the gap between the time and money an author has and the time and money that finishing a book requires.
Judges: John Duff (chair), MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, and Lucas Wittmann.
Winner: Maurice Chammah’s Let the Lord Sort Them: Texas and the Death Penalty’s Rise and Fall in America (Crown)
Judges’ citation: Let the Lord Sort Them is a powerful, deeply reported, and revelatory book. Through his account of the rise and fall of the death penalty in Texas, Chammah reveals the truth about crime and punishment in America and how the legal system actually works. Through its moving look at the human cost of the death penalty, this compassionate book follows in the best tradition of the Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards to enlarge our understanding of the great political and social issues of our time.
Winner: Steven Dudley’s Mara: The Making of the MS13 (Hanover Square Press)
Judges’ citation: This timely and incisive work, speaking directly to the mission and purpose of the Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards, centers on one immigrant Salvadoran family that represents the complexities of the story of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), the notorious gang that is the U.S. government’s number one target in its efforts to rid the country of “criminal aliens.” Without ever minimizing the brutality of this gang, the book dispels many of the myths surrounding its history and power. More important, MARA is the story of flawed U.S. and Central American policies over many years and the exploitative and unequal systems they create.