Announcing the 2020 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Winners and Finalists | Columbia Journalism School

Announcing the 2020 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Winners and Finalists

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University are pleased to announce the four winners and two finalists of the 2020 Lukas Prize Project Awards. The Lukas Prizes, established in 1998 and consisting of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Mark Lynton History Prize, honor the best in American nonfiction writing.

The awards ceremony, originally scheduled for May 5, is postponed until further notice.


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. These awards assist in closing the gap between the time and money an author has and the time and money that finishing a book requires. Judges: MacKenzie Fraser-Bub Collier (chair), Peter Ginna, Lucas Wittmann

• Winner: Bartow J. Elmore’s SEED MONEY: Monsanto’s Past and the Future of Food (W. W. Norton)

Judges’ Citation: SEED MONEY is a deeply researched and revelatory expose on Monsanto’s complicated and radical influence on the food we eat.  Through field work, investigative research, and archival exploration, Bartow J. Elmore tells a detailed environmental and social history of the world’s largest genetically engineered seed enterprise—a history with deep implications for the future of food. This informative book follows the best tradition of the Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards to expand our understanding of a pressing social issue: sustainably and responsibly feeding a growing population.

• Winner: Shahan Mufti’s AMERICAN CALIPH: The True Story of the Hanafi Siege, America’s First Homegrown Islamic Terror Attack (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Judges’ Citation: Speaking directly to the mission and purpose of the Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards, this timely and powerful investigation of the Hanafi Siege illuminates the first-ever attack by Muslim militants on American soil—a pivotal moment when our nation was confronted with the intersection of Islam and terrorism.  In AMERICAN CALIPH, Shahan Mufti, self-described as “100 percent Muslim, 100 percent American, 100 percent outsider and 100 percent insider,” explores the complex root of homegrown terror and its relationship to Islam, immigration, and the very nature of American society.


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, 2019, and December 31, 2019. Judges: Barbara Clark (chair), Wesley Lowery, Miriam Pawel

• Winner: Alex Kotlowitz’s AN AMERICAN SUMMER: Love and Death in Chicago (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)

Judges’ citation: Chicago has some of the most impoverished and segregated urban neighborhoods in the country. In the past 20 years, more than 14,000 people have died there as a result of gun violence and other crimes. The triumph of AN AMERICAN SUMMER is that this familiar story is rendered with compassion and insight as well as a fresh, compelling urgency. In a series of daily dispatches, Alex Kotlowitz chronicles the summer of 2013 in vibrant, revelatory prose that captures the drama and complexity of life in the city’s toughest neighborhoods. The result is a nuanced, dispassionate portrait — a classic of immersive journalism. As Kotlowitz writes, "It’s in these, the most ravaged of our communities . . . that we can come to understand the makings of who we are as a nation."

• Finalist: Emily Bazelon’s CHARGED: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration (Random House)

Judges’ citation: Weaving together intimate personal narratives with deep research on bias and racism in the American criminal justice system, CHARGED documents the enormous power that prosecutors wield both in the courtroom and beyond. Following two protagonists through each key juncture of their legal journeys, Emily Bazelon exposes the human consequences of prosecutorial discretion and makes a strong case for reform. She juxtaposes those case studies with a sweeping look at the system that has led to mass incarceration and the nascent efforts to reverse that trend. A rare blend of intellectual prowess, meticulous research, and narrative suspense, CHARGED exemplifies the way narrative journalism can influence profound debates in American society.


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, 2019, and December 31, 2019. Judges: Ethan Michaeli (chair), Imani Perry, and Mark Whitaker.

• Winner: Kerri K. Greenidge’s BLACK RADICAL: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter (Liveright)

Judges’ citation: BLACK RADICAL is the most complete biography yet of one of the most interesting African American intellectual leaders of the early 20th century: an upper-class Harvard graduate from Boston who founded the most militant black newspaper of the era, joined W.E.B. Du Bois in launching the Niagara Movement crusade for black legal rights, pioneered the practice of civil disobedience during the brutal backlash against Reconstruction, and led the protests against the white supremacist blockbuster film “Birth of a Nation.” In elegant, engrossing prose, Kerri K. Greenidge brings alive this deeply complex man and the world of black New England from which he emerged, as well as an era of rough-and-tumble politics, media transformed by technology, and citizens struggling for justice—in short, an era very much relevant to our own historical moment.

• Finalist: Daniel Immerwahr’s HOW TO HIDE AN EMPIRE: A History of the Greater United States (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Judges’ citation: HOW TO HIDE AN EMPIRE, by historian Daniel Immerwahr, traces the history of America’s offshore territories, past and present, from eventual states such as Hawaii and Alaska, to second-tier commonwealths such as Puerto Rico, to abandoned one-time U.S. protectorates such as the Philippines. In addition to fascinating individual stories, Immerwahr also offers a revelatory analysis of how their fates shaped the course of political, cultural, and technological events on the “logo map” American mainland, creating a new entity, a “pointillist empire.” Meticulously researched and highly entertaining, HOW TO HIDE AN EMPIRE should provoke intensive conversation and debate among a wide range of readers, from those just beginning to understand American history to established academics.


Read the full announcement, including authors’ bios and more information about the Lukas Prizes, Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.