Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation Announce the 2021 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlist | Columbia Journalism School
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Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation Announce the 2021 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlist

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University are pleased to announce the 2021 shortlists 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 finalists of the 2021 Lukas Prizes will be announced on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. The awards will be presented virtually at a ceremony on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.


J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Awards (two winners 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. 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.

  • David Dennis Jr.’s THE MOVEMENT MADE US (HarperCollins)

The Movement Made Us, set to be published next year by HarperCollins, is about the author’s father’s experience in the civil rights movement, written from a first-person perspective. The book is a study of memory — both individual and collective — as well as the trauma and resilience that can be passed down in Black families.

  • Emily Dufton’s ADDICTION, INC.: How the Corporate Takeover of America’s Treatment Industry Created a Profitable Epidemic (University of Chicago Press)

Addiction, Inc. traces the complex histories of the medications that are considered the “gold standard” in treating opioid addiction: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Studying the public-private partnerships that developed and commercialized these drugs since the 1960s, Addiction, Inc. addresses the pressing questions of why these half-century-old medications are still the primary way we’re confronting an epidemic that killed over 81,000 people last year, and how these drugs make their manufacturers and clinic operators so much money when they remain unavailable to so many. 

  • Channing Gerard Joseph’s HOUSE OF SWANN: Where Slaves Became Queens — and Changed the World (Crown Publishing Group)

House of Swann is a narrative biography of William Dorsey Swann — a formerly enslaved Black man who became the first-known self-described drag queen, the earliest-known American queer activist, and the leader of the earliest-known LGBTQ+ resistance organization in the United States. Based on the author’s original discovery and years of extensive archival research, the book is the untold story of how Swann inspired a rebellious group of butlers, coachmen, and cooks — most of them formerly enslaved people as well — to create a secret world of crossdressing balls in Washington, D.C., in the 1880s and ’90s, nearly a century before the Stonewall Riots. Through the lens of Swann’s remarkable life, the book also explores how anti-Blackness and queerphobia have intersected in the United States.

  • Casey Parks’ DIARY OF A MISFIT (Knopf)

When Casey Parks came out as a lesbian, she assumed her life in the rural South was over. Her mother shunned her, and her pastor asked God to kill her. But then Parks’ grandmother, a stern conservative who grew up picking cotton, told Parks the story of Roy Hudgins, a transgender country singer who was allegedly kidnapped as a baby. Part memoir, part investigative reporting, Diary of a Misfit is the story of the decade Parks spent trying to unravel the mysteries of Hudgins’ life, all the while confronting ghosts of her own.

  • Elizabeth Rush’s THE MOTHER OF ALL THINGS: On Climate Change, the Stories We Tell, and a Journey to the Edge of Antarctica (Milkweed Editions)

The Mother of All Things follows the author's voyage on an icebreaker — along with its international cast of scientists and crew — to the little understood Thwaites Glacier, which may hold the key to the future of global sea-level rise. Woven together from the hundreds of interviews the author conducted during the expedition, The Mother of All Things attempts to chart a new kind of Antarctic narrative, one where collective action is celebrated above individual accomplishment and the voices of those long locked out of the last continent’s icy archive speak about the collaborative nature of scientific inquiry, family rearing, and what it means to work together toward a livable future.

2021 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award Judges: Peter Ginna (chair), Pamela Newkirk, Rachel Louise Snyder


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, 2020, and December 31, 2020.

  • Becky Cooper’s WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence (Grand Central Publishing)

We Keep the Dead Close is a gripping literary true crime that investigates a 1969 murder at Harvard and the institution’s subsequent efforts to close the case. In telling Jane Britton’s story and unfurling the social issues surrounding it, Becky Cooper examines gender inequality in academia, the silencing effect of our elite institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.

  • Seyward Darby’s SISTERS IN HATE: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism (Little, Brown and Company)

After the election of Donald J. Trump, journalist Seyward Darby went looking for the women of the so-called “alt-right” — really just white nationalism with a new label. The mainstream media depicted the alt-right as a bastion of angry white men, but was it? As women headlined resistance to the Trump administration's bigotry and sexism, most notably at the Women’s Marches, Darby wanted to know why others were joining a movement espousing racism and anti-feminism. Who were these women, and what did their activism reveal about America’s past, present, and future?

With acute psychological insight and eye-opening reporting, Darby steps inside the contemporary hate movement and draws connections to precursors like the Ku Klux Klan. Far more than mere helpmeets, women have been sustaining features of white nationalism. Sisters in Hate shows how the work women do to normalize and propagate racist extremism has consequences well beyond the hate movement.

  • Barton Gellman, DARK MIRROR: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State (Penguin Press)

From the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the New York Times bestseller Angler, comes the definitive master narrative of Edward Snowden and the modern surveillance state, based on unique access to Snowden and groundbreaking reportage around the world.

Edward Snowden touched off a global debate in 2013 when he gave Barton Gellman, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald each a vast and explosive archive of highly classified files revealing the extent of the American government's access to our every communication. They shared the Pulitzer Prize that year for public service. For Gellman, who never stopped reporting, that was only the beginning. He jumped off from what Snowden gave him to track the reach and methodology of the U.S. surveillance state and bring it to light with astonishing new clarity. Along the way, he interrogated Snowden’s own history and found important ways in which myth and reality do not line up. Gellman treats Snowden with respect, but this is no hagiographic account, and Dark Mirror sets the record straight in ways that are both fascinating and important.

  • Jessica Goudeau, AFTER THE LAST BORDER: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America (Viking)

After the Last Border situates a dramatic, character-driven story within a larger history — the evolution of modern refugee resettlement in the United States, beginning with World War II and ending with current closed-door policies. She reveals not just how America’s changing attitudes toward refugees has influenced policy and law, but also the profound effect it has on human lives.

Goudeau traces the lives of two refugee women and their families: “Mu Naw,”* who arrived from Myanmar in 2007 and “Hasna,”* who arrived in 2016 with the first wave of Syrian refugees. Mu Naw and Hasna both narrowly escaped from their home countries before beginning the arduous but life-saving process of resettling in Austin, Texas, a city that would show them the best and worst of what America has to offer.

  • Isabel Wilkerson, CASTE: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House)

Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations. Using riveting stories about people, she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

2021 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Judges: Miriam Pawel (chair), Sarah Broom, Alex Kotlowitz


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, 2020, and December 31, 2020.

  • Walter Johnson’s THE BROKEN HEART OF AMERICA: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States (Basic Books)

From Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capitalism have persistently entwined to corrupt the nation’s past. St. Louis was a staging post for Native American removal and imperial expansion, and its wealth grew on the backs of its poor Black residents, from slavery through redlining and urban renewal. But it was once also America’s most radical city, home to anti-capitalist immigrants, the Civil War’s first general emancipation, and the nation’s first general strike — a legacy of resistance that endures. A blistering history of a city’s rise and decline, The Broken Heart of America will forever change how we think about the United States.

  • Martha S. Jones’ VANGUARD: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Basic Books)

In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women’s movement did not win the vote for most Black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own. In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of Black women — Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more — who were the vanguard of women’s rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

  • Les Payne and Tamara Payne’s THE DEAD ARE ARISING: The Life of Malcolm X (Liveright)

Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly 30-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X — all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over 100 hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.

The result is this historic biography that conjures the never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the 20th century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.”

  • Géraldine Schwarz’s THOSE WHO FORGET: My Family’s Story in Nazi Europe (Scribner)

Those Who Forget, published to international awards and acclaim, is journalist Géraldine Schwarz’s riveting account of her German and French grandparents’ lives during World War II, an in-depth history of Europe’s post-war reckoning with fascism, and an urgent appeal to remember as a defense against today’s rise of far-right nationalism.

Weaving together the threads of three generations of her family story with Europe’s process of post-war reckoning, Schwarz explores how millions were seduced by ideology, overcome by a fog of denial after the war, and, in Germany at least, eventually managed to transform collective guilt into democratic responsibility. She asks: How can nations learn from history? And she observes that countries that avoid confronting the past are especially vulnerable to extremism. Searing and unforgettable, Those Who Forget is a riveting memoir, an illuminating history, and an urgent call for remembering.

  • William G. Thomas III’s A QUESTION OF FREEDOM: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation's Founding to the Civil War (Yale University Press)

For over 70 years, the enslaved families of Prince George’s County, Maryland, filed hundreds of suits for their freedom against a powerful circle of slaveholders, beginning with the Jesuit priests who owned some of the largest plantations in the nation and founded a college at Georgetown on the Potomac River. In this original book, historian William G. Thomas III tells an intensely human and intricate story about the moral problems of slavery.

2021 Mark Lynton History Prize Judges: Leon DeCosta Dash (chair), Tyler Anbinder, Julia Keller


Read the full announcement, including authors’ bios and more information on this year’s nominees.


About the Prizes

Established in 1998, the Lukas Prize Project honors the best in American nonfiction writing. Co-administered by the Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, and sponsored by the family of the late Mark Lynton, a historian and senior executive at the firm Hunter Douglas in the Netherlands, the Lukas Prize Project presents four awards annually.



Beth Parker
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