Columbia Journalism School Announces the 2023 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlists

February 22, 2023

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University are pleased to announce the 2023 shortlists for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and the Mark Lynton History PrizeThe Lukas Prizes, established in 1998, honor the best in American nonfiction writing.

The winners and finalists of the 2023 Lukas Prizes will be announced on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. The awards will be presented at a ceremony at Columbia on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

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.

  • Jesselyn Cook, "The Quiet Damage: QAnon and the Destruction of the American Family" (Crown)

"The Quiet Damage" examines the psychological draw of QAnon and adjacent conspiracy theories, their devastating toll on American families, and the power of divisions that could last for generations in American life. It follows five everyday families torn apart at the seams, intimately chronicling their stories from the perspectives of both those lost down ideological rabbit holes and their loved ones looking on as they try to find a way back to each other.

  • Mike Hixenbaugh, "Uncivil: One Town’s Fight over Race and Identity, and the New Battle for America’s Schools" (Mariner Books)

"Uncivil" takes readers inside the Christian nationalist campaign to take control of public education in the U.S., placing this movement in historical context while illuminating the harrowing stories of students and teachers whose lives have been upended. Hixenbaugh anchors the narrative in a wealthy Texas suburb where a conservative backlash against the racial reckoning of 2020 becomes a national model—or cautionary tale, depending on who you ask—in the new battles over critical race theory and LGBTQ inclusion that have since spread to every corner of the country. "Uncivil" pulls back the curtain on the powerful forces driving this crusade and traces the rise of a new resistance movement led by a diverse coalition of student activists, fed-up educators, and parents. Hixenbaugh connects this moment with past fundamentalist campaigns to censor classroom lessons on racism deemed un-godly or un-American, and in doing so, reveals what’s at stake when public schools become the frontline of our nation’s most foundational divisions.

  • Rebecca Kelliher, "Guerrilla Pills: The Abortion Drug Underground" (Beacon Press)

"Guerrilla Pills" traces the cross-continental history behind mifepristone and misoprostol, better known as the abortion pills, from their invention to their quickly growing dispersal networks today. This timely narrative follows how major players, from executives to doctors to activists to everyday people, have been fighting for decades around the globe to place the pills in pregnant people’s hands—or to stop them. By unraveling how mifepristone and misoprostol came to be, we may be able to make better sense of America’s post-Roe present and the lessons different countries offer. While the wider American public may only now be talking about the pills, these medications tell a longer history of biases in medicine and law—and of resistance galvanized by the millions of women’s lives that remain at stake.

  • Megan Kimble, "City Limits: Infrastructure, Inequality, and the Future of America’s Highways" (Crown)

Seventy years ago, planners sold highways running through urban centers as progress, essential to our future prosperity. Instead, highways divided cities, displaced people from their homes, chained us to our cars, and locked us into an increasingly higher-emissions future. And the more highways we built, the worse traffic got. Nowhere is this more visible than in Texas. In Houston, Dallas, and Austin, residents and activists are fighting against massive, multi-billion-dollar highway expansions that will claim thousands of homes and businesses and entrench segregation and sprawl. In "City Limits", Megan Kimble weaves the troubling history of America’s urban highways with the stories of ordinary people fighting for a more just, connected, and sustainable future.

  • Jessica Pishko, "The Highest Law in the Land: How the Growing Power of Sheriffs Threatens Democracy" (Dutton)

"The Highest Law in the Land" is a deeply reported and historically informed work of nonfiction tracing the history and political power of sheriffs from the end of the Civil War to the present day. Through convict leasing and Jim Crow in the South, to frontier-building and the posse comitatus movements in the West, and, finally, through the contemporary age of mass incarceration, sheriffs play an important role in normalizing jail as a cure for society’s ills, and have become a flashpoint in the current politics of toxic masculinity, guns, white supremacy, and rural resentment.

2023 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award Judges: Paul Golob (chair), Alia Malek, Paige Williams

J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize ($10,000):

The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize recognizes superb examples of nonfiction writing that exemplify the literary grace, commitment to serious research, and 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 and December 31, 2022.

  • Rachel Aviv, "Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

"Strangers to Ourselves" poses fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs, Rachel Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. She follows an Indian woman celebrated as a saint who lives in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children’s forgiveness after recovering from psychosis; a man who devotes his life to seeking revenge upon his psychoanalysts; and an affluent young woman who, after a decade of defining herself through her diagnosis, decides to go off her meds because she doesn’t know who she is without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv’s gripping exploration is refracted through her own account of living in a hospital ward at the age of six. Aviv asks how the stories we tell about mental disorders shape our lives—and our identities. Challenging the way we understand and talk about illness, her account is a testament to the porousness and resilience of the mind.

  • Lyndsie Bourgon, "Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods" (Little, Brown Spark)

"In Tree Thieves", Lyndsie Bourgon takes us deep into the underbelly of the illegal timber market. As she traces three timber poaching cases, she introduces us to tree poachers, law enforcement officials, forensic wood specialists, the enigmatic residents of former logging communities, environmental activists, international timber cartels, and indigenous communities along the way. Old-growth trees are invaluable and irreplaceable for both humans and wildlife, and are the oldest living things on earth. But the morality of tree poaching is not as simple as we might think: stealing trees is a form of deeply rooted protest, and a side effect of environmental preservation and protection that doesn’t include communities that have been uprooted or marginalized when park boundaries are drawn. As Bourgon discovers, failing to include working class and rural communities in the preservation of these awe-inducing ecosystems can lead to catastrophic results. Featuring investigative reporting, fascinating characters, logging history, political analysis, and cutting-edge tree science, "Tree Thieves" takes readers on a thrilling journey into the intrigue, crime, and incredible complexity sheltered under the forest canopy.

  • Jack Lowery, "It Was Vulgar & It Was Beautiful: How AIDS Activists Used Art to Fight a Pandemic" (Bold Type Books)

In the late 1980s, the AIDS pandemic was annihilating queer people, intravenous drug users, and communities of color in America, and disinformation about the disease ran rampant. Out of the activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an art collective that called itself Gran Fury formed to campaign against corporate greed, government inaction, stigma, and public indifference to the epidemic. In "It Was Vulgar & It Was Beautiful", Jack Lowery examines Gran Fury’s art and activism, offering a complex, moving portrait of a collective and its members. Gran Fury and ACT UP’s strategies are still used frequently by the activists leading contemporary movements. In an era when structural violence and the devastation of COVID-19 continue to target the most vulnerable, this belief in the power of public art and action persists.

  • Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, "His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice" (Viking)

The video recording of George Floyd’s death set off the largest protest movement in the history of the United States, awakening millions to the pervasiveness of racial injustice. "His Name Is George Floyd" tells the story of a beloved figure from Houston’s housing projects as he faced the stifling systemic pressures that come with being a Black man in America. Placing his narrative within the context of the country’s enduring legacy of institutional racism, this deeply reported account examines Floyd’s family roots in slavery and sharecropping, the segregation of his schools, the overpolicing of his community amid a wave of mass incarceration, and the callous disregard toward his struggle with addiction—putting today’s inequality into uniquely human terms. Drawing upon hundreds of interviews with Floyd’s closest friends and family, his teachers and coaches, civil rights icons, and those in the highest seats of political power, Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa offer a poignant and moving exploration of George Floyd’s America, revealing how a man who simply wanted to breathe ended up touching the world.

  • Linda Villarosa, "Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation" (Doubleday) 

In "Under the Skin", Linda Villarosa lays bare the forces in the American health care system and in American society that cause Black people to “live sicker and die quicker” compared to their white counterparts. Today’s medical texts and instruments still carry fallacious slavery-era assumptions that Black bodies are fundamentally different from white bodies. Study after study of medical settings show worse treatment and outcomes for Black patients. Black people live in dirtier, more polluted communities due to environmental racism and neglect from all levels of government. Most powerfully, Villarosa describes the new understanding that coping with the daily scourge of racism ages Black people prematurely. Anchored by unforgettable human stories and backed by definitive proof, Under the Skin is dramatic, tragic, and necessary reading.

2023 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Judges: Jessica Bruder (chair), Emily Bazelon, Shereen Marisol Meraji, Vann R. Newkirk II 

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 and December 31, 2022.

  • Deborah Cohen, "Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War" (Random House) 

They were an astonishing group: glamorous, gutsy, and irreverent to the bone. "Last Call at the Hotel Imperial" is the extraordinary story of the American foreign correspondents John Gunther, H.R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson. In the tumultuous years between the world wars, they landed exclusive interviews with Hitler, Mussolini, Nehru, and Gandhi, and helped to shape what Americans knew about the world. Unable to separate themselves from the global turmoil, they broke longstanding taboos about proper subjects for reporting. Over doubles knocked back late at night, they argued about love, war, sex, death, and everything in between. Told with the immediacy of a conversation overheard, this revelatory book captures how the global upheavals of the 20th century felt up close.

  • Beverly Gage, "G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century" (Viking) 

J. Edgar Hoover transformed a failing law-enforcement backwater into a modern machine. He believed in the power of the federal government to do great things for the nation and its citizens. He also believed that certain people—many of them communists or racial minorities or both—did not deserve to be included in that American project. In "G-Man", Gage shows how Hoover was more than a one-dimensional tyrant who strong-armed the rest of the country into submission. As FBI director from 1924 through his death in 1972, he was a confidant, counselor, and adversary to eight U.S. presidents. Hoover was not above blackmail and intimidation, but he also embodied conservative values ranging from anticommunism and white supremacy to a crusading, politicized interpretation of Christianity. He stayed in office for so long because people from the highest reaches of government down to the grassroots supported what he was doing, thus creating the template that the political right has followed to transform itself. "G-Man" places Hoover back at the center of American political history and uses his story to explain the trajectories of governance, policing, race, ideology, political culture, and federal power as they evolved over the course of the 20th century.

  • Kerri K. Greenidge, "The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family" (Liveright/W.W. Norton) 

The Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, have been highly revered figures in American history, lauded for leaving behind their lives as elite, slave-owning women on a plantation in South Carolina to become firebrand abolitionists in the North. Yet the focus on their story has obscured the experiences of their Black relatives, the progeny of their brother, Henry, and one of the enslaved people he owned, a woman named Nancy Weston. In "The Grimkes", Kerri K. Greenidge recovers the larger Grimke clan, demonstrating that the Black Grimke women—including Angelina Weld Grimke and Charlotte Forten—created a vast network of friends, kin, and lovers as they reimagined Blackness and womanhood in terms far more radical than their white relatives would have allowed. A stunning counternarrative, "The Grimkes" shows that, just as the Hemingses and Jeffersons personified the racial myths of America’s founding generation, the Grimkes embodied the legacy—both traumatic and generative—of those myths.

  • Pekka Hämäläinen, "Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America" (Liveright/ W.W. Norton)

In "Indigenous Continent", historian Pekka Hämäläinen presents a counternarrative that shatters some of the most basic assumptions about American history. Shifting our perspective away from Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, the Revolution, and other well-trodden episodes on the conventional timeline, he depicts a sovereign world of Native nations whose members, far from helpless victims of colonial violence, dominated the continent for centuries after the first European arrivals. From the Iroquois in the Northeast to the Comanches on the Plains, and from the Pueblos in the Southwest to the Cherokees in the Southeast, Native nations frequently decimated white newcomers in battle. Even as the white population exploded and colonists’ land greed grew more extravagant, Indigenous peoples flourished due to sophisticated diplomacy and leadership structures. Hämäläinen ultimately contends that the very notion of “colonial America” is misleading, and that we should speak instead of an “Indigenous America” that was only slowly and unevenly becoming colonial. The evidence of Indigenous defiance is apparent today in the hundreds of Native nations that still dot the United States and Canada. "Indigenous Continent" restores Native peoples to their rightful place at the fulcrum of American history.

  • Kelly Lytle Hernández, "Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands" (W.W. Norton)

"Bad Mexicans" tells the dramatic story of the magonistas, the migrant rebels who sparked the 1910 Mexican Revolution from the United States. Led by a brilliant but ill-tempered radical named Ricardo Flores Magón, the magonistas were a motley band of journalists, miners, migrant workers, and others, who organized thousands of Mexican workers—and American dissidents—to their cause. Determined to oust Mexico’s dictator, Porfirio Díaz, who encouraged the plunder of his country by U.S. imperialists such as Guggenheim and Rockefeller, the rebels had to outrun and outsmart the swarm of U.S. authorities vested in protecting the Díaz regime. They lived in hiding, wrote in secret code, and launched armed raids into Mexico until they ignited the world’s first social revolution of the 20th century. Taking readers to the frontlines of the magonista uprising and the counterinsurgency campaign that failed to stop them, Kelly Lytle Hernández puts the magonista revolt at the heart of U.S. history. Long ignored by textbooks, the magonistas threatened to undo the rise of Anglo-American power, on both sides of the border, and inspired a revolution that gave birth to the Mexican-American population, making the magonistas’ story integral to modern American life.

2023 Mark Lynton History Prize Judges: Elizabeth Taylor (chair), Deirdre Mask, William G. Thomas III

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