Columbia Journalism School Announces the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlist | Columbia Journalism School

Columbia Journalism School Announces the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlist

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University are pleased to announce the 2019 shortlist for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and the Mark Lynton History Prize. The Lukas Prizes, established in 1998, honor the best in American nonfiction writing.


The winners and runners-up of the 2019 Lukas Prizes will be announced on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at the Nieman Foundation in Cambridge, Mass.


J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Awards (Two Winners to Each Receive $25,000): 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.


1. Maurice Chammah’s LET THE LORD SORT THEM: Texas and the Death Penalty’s Rise and Fall in America (Crown)

Traces the revival of the American death penalty, focusing on Texas. Beginning in the 1970s, when the punishment nearly disappeared, the state slowly grew into the literal and symbolic leader of the country’s embrace of a more punitive criminal justice system.

2. Steven Dudley’s MARA: The Making of the MS13 (Hanover Square Press)

The story of the MS13 gang, as told through the lives of some of its members. Warped, shortsighted measures to stop the MS13 are tried, then replicated, leading more often to the gang’s expansion than its demise.

3. Amelia Pang’s MADE IN CHINA: How an Engineer Ended Up in a Chinese Gulag Making Products for Kmart (Algonquin Books)

A deeply reported book on human rights violations in Chinese labor camps. The story follows a Chinese engineer named Sun Yi who was imprisoned in one of these many camps.

4. Lauren Sandler’s THIS IS ALL I GOT: One Woman’s Desperate Year in the New Gilded Age (Penguin Random House)

Observes the constellation of circumstances that result in the homelessness of an extraordinary single mother. The book begins as Tyra goes into labor in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn and follows her as she navigates a byzantine system of welfare and housing benefits.

5. Sarah Schulman’s LET THE RECORD SHOW: ACT UP and the Enduring Relationship of AIDS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

A political history of the strategies and tactics of ACT UP, New York (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) during its most influential period from 1987 to 1992. The book is designed to inspire people to action today by demystifying the process of creating change.


2019 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award Judges: John Duff (chair), MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, Lucas Wittmann


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.


1. Shane Bauer’s AMERICAN PRISON: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment (Penguin Press)

A groundbreaking and brave look at the nexus of prison and profit in America—in one Louisiana prison and over the course of our country’s history.


2. Howard Blum’s IN THE ENEMY’S HOUSE: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies (HarperCollins)

As the Cold War begins, two unlikely friends – a hard-charging FBI agent and a brilliant code breaker – team up to break the "unbreakable" Soviet codes only to discover the existence of Operation Enormoz – the Russian plan to steal America’s atomic secrets.


3. Lauren Hilgers’s PATRIOT NUMBER ONE: American Dreams in Chinatown (Crown)

The story of Zhuang Liehong and Little Yan is weaved into a larger investigation of the Chinese community in Flushing, one of the fastest-growing immigrant enclaves in the U.S., weighing the illusions and expectations of many immigrants against the realities they face.


4. Chris McGreal’s AMERICAN OVERDOSE: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts (PublicAffairs)

A comprehensive portrait of a uniquely American epidemic—devastating in its findings and damning in its conclusions.


5. Sarah Smarsh’s HEARTLAND: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Scribner)

An eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in America that aims to deepen our understanding of the ways in which class shapes our country.


2019 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Judges: Dale Russakoff (chair), Nate Blakeslee, Amy Goldstein

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.


1. David W. Blight’s FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster)

The definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African-American of the 19th century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.

2. 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)

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to Civil War. By awakening Northerners to the true nature of slavery, and by enraging Southerners who demanded the return of their human ‘property,’ fugitive slaves forced the nation to confront the truth about itself.

3. Edith Sheffer’s ASPERGER’S CHILDREN: The Origin of Autism in Nazi Vienna (W.W. Norton & Company)

The story that reveals how Hans Asperger, the pioneer who helped define autism and Asperger syndrome in Nazi Vienna, was not only involved in the racial policies of Hitler’s Third Reich, he was complicit in the murder of children.

4. Jeffrey C. Stewart’s THE NEW NEGRO: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press)

This definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance explores both Locke’s professional and private life, including his relationships with his mother, his friends, and his white patrons, as well as his lifelong search for love as a gay man.

5. Steven J. Zipperstein’s POGROM: Kishinev and the Tilt of History (Liveright)

Using new evidence culled from Russia, Israel, and Europe, a book that brings historical insight and clarity to a much-misunderstood event that would do so much to transform 20th century Jewish life and beyond.



2019 Mark Lynton History Prize Judges: Elizabeth Taylor (chair), Annette Gordon-Reed, David Greenberg


Read the full announcement including authors' bios and short descriptions of this year's nominees.