Announcing the 2018 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Winners and Finalists | Columbia Journalism School

Announcing the 2018 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Winners and Finalists

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard are pleased to announce the four winners and the two finalists of the 2018 Lukas Prizes. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.


The Lukas Prizes marks its 20th anniversary this year. This is also the first year that two $25,000 Lukas Work-In-Progress Awards will be granted.


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.


Winner: Chris Hamby’s SOUL FULL OF COAL DUST: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice (Little, Brown and Company)

“SOUL FULL OF COAL DUST combines meticulous, in-depth reporting and careful research with a sensitive portrayal of individuals afflicted with black lung disease—a scourge that still hasn’t been eradicated. Chris Hamby’s immersion in the lives of West Virginia miners and the courageous people trying to help them honors the work of J. Anthony Lukas by shining a light on the dangerous conditions endured by people in Appalachia, often forgotten, who see no better employment options than a life underground. The environmental and human costs of mining coal, and the complicity of the insurance industry in preventing treatment, staggers the mind and stirs the heart. Hamby’s work-in-progress shows us that America’s dependence on coal has implications beyond the merely theoretical.”


Winner: Rachel Louise Snyder’s NO VISIBLE BRUISES: What We Don’t Know About Violence Can Kill Us (Bloomsbury Publishing)
“NO VISIBLE BRUISES plunges readers into the nightmare world of American domestic violence. Rachel Louise Snyder’s singular achievement is that she illuminates the dark corners of this specter as a way to understand it and thus eliminate it. Her perspective on the challenges faced by those who try to work within the system, and on the role of factors such as drugs, unemployment, and teenage pregnancy, point the way to possible solutions. In the best tradition of J. Anthony Lukas, Snyder participates in the story, capturing the big picture along with the telling details. As she says, what we don’t know about violence can kill us. Her compassionate yet thorough examination of the problem promises to take the national conversation on this issue in a productive direction.”


2018 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award Judges: Barbara Clark (chair), John Duff, Chris Jackson


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 social concern 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 and must have been published between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017.


Winner: Amy Goldstein’s JANESVILLE: An American Story (Simon & Schuster)

With vast sweep and stunning specificity, Amy Goldstein’s JANESVILLE chronicles the dissolution of the middle class in one Midwestern community that becomes emblematic of America itself. Goldstein begins with the 2008 closing of a General Motors plant that for 80 years buttressed the families and social fabric of Janesville, then marshalls shoe-leather reporting and original social science into a panoramic portrait of workers, politicians, parents, teenagers, educators, business leaders, and a community struggling to find a way forward.  As the subtitle aptly puts it, JANESVILLE is ‘An American Story,’ a triumph of narrative nonfiction in the tradition of J. Anthony Lukas.”


Finalist: Jessica Bruder’s NOMADLAND: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (W.W. Norton & Company)

“If the best narrative nonfiction exists to take us to stirring places we’ve never been and to share a gripping, character-driven story, Jessica Bruder succeeded brilliantly with NOMADLANDoffering a powerful human perspective on the American condition as she sees it being tested at every turn. Bruder’s epic journey (in a white 1995 GMC Vandura van she dubbed Halen) landed on wisdom that 'the last free space in America is a parking spot' and found a first-hand view into the new economy that has transformed our nation. Bruder’s urgent rendering of our current crisis, alongside portraits of Americans finding new paths to fulfillment, has given us a work that transports us into the center of our country’s beating heart.”


2018 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Judges: William Shinker (chair), David Blum, Dale Russakoff


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, 2017, and December 31, 2017.


Winner: Stephen Kotkin’s STALIN: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 (Penguin Press)

A stunning achievement, Stephen Kotkin’s STALIN reveals with precision and clarity the period in which the impatient dictator developed into a monster who used his authoritarian rule and coercive power to manipulate social divisions, invent enemies, and forge despotism in mass bloodshed. Through his prodigious research and command of an immense body of new documents, Kotkin comprehensively documents Josef Stalin’s rule and his remaking of the USSR into an empire, and he gets inside the mind of a tyrant whose murderous obsessions led him to execute nearly a million people. This second volume of Kotkin’s (planned) trilogy deepens understanding of the turbulent, tragic period by juxtaposing Stalin’s extension of influence in the Soviet Union with Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany, culminating in the most disastrous conflagration in modern history. In a landmark work of historical scholarship, Kotkin has written a captivating biography of a despot that chronicles the evolution of Stalin as a human being, political operator, and growing archfiend in this horrific era of modern history.”


Finalist: Caroline Fraser’s PRAIRIE FIRES: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books)

“Caroline Fraser has brilliantly recast our understanding of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and times and affirmed her influence in shaping the myth of the iconic West.  Extensively researched, PRAIRIE FIRES reflects Fraser’s deep knowledge of westward expansion, and captures the full arc of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life in three acts: poverty, struggle, and reinvention. Fraser illuminates how Wilder’s wildly popular ‘Little House’ series was a ‘profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation’ by a woman who had reimagined her frontier life as epic and uplifting, with disappointment and loss transformed into parable.  Fraser keys into the vexed relationship between Wilder and her daughter, Rose, a profligate tabloid journalist prone to dramatic mood swings, and locates a dark libertarian strain running through the family. This biography considers a cultural touchstone–‘The Little House on the Prairie’–and magnificently places it in the American experience and imagination.”


2018 Mark Lynton History Prize Judges: David Maraniss, Ethan Michaeli, Sylvia Nasar, Elizabeth Taylor


About Columbia Journalism School
For more than a century, the school has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened its doors in 1912 and offers a Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science in Data Journalism, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communications.  It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Mike Berger Award. | @columbiajourn

About the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard educates leaders in journalism and elevates the standards of the profession through special programs that convene scholars and experts in all fields. More than 1,500 journalists from 96 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, a quarterly print and online magazine that covers thought leadership in journalism; Nieman Lab, a website that reports on the future of news, innovation and best practices in the digital media age; and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling. | @niemanfdn

Beth Parker
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Caroline Martinet Wernecke, Program Manager
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2018 Lukas Prizes Ceremony