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2021 J. Anthony Lukas Prizes 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 Shortlist

  • David Dennis Jr., THE MOVEMENT MADE US (HarperCollins)
  • Emily Dufton, ADDICTION, INC (University of Chicago Press)
  • Channing Gerard Joseph, HOUSE OF SWANN (Crown Publishing Group)
  • Casey Parks, DIARY OF A MISFIT (Knopf)
  • Elizabeth Rush, THE MOTHER OF ALL THINGS (Milkweed Editions)

J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Shortlist

  • Becky Cooper, WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE (Grand Central Publishing)
  • Seyward Darby, SISTERS IN HATE (Little, Brown and Company)
  • Barton Gellman, DARK MIRROR (Penguin Press)
  • Jessica Goudeau, AFTER THE LAST BORDER (Viking)
  • Isabel Wilkerson, CASTE (Random House)

Mark Lynton History Prize Shortlist

  • Walter Johnson, THE BROKEN HEART OF AMERICA (Basic Books)
  • Martha S. Jones, VANGUARD (Basic Books)
  • Les Payne and Tamara Payne, THE DEAD ARE ARISING (Liveright)
  • Géraldine Schwarz, THOSE WHO FORGET (Scribner)
  • William G. Thomas III, A QUESTION OF FREEDOM (Yale University Press)

About the prizes

Established in 1998, the Lukas Prize Project honors the best in American nonfiction writing. Co-administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism 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.

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 this year: Peter Ginna (chair), Pamela Newkirk, and Rachel Louise Snyder.

2021 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards shortlist

2021 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress shortlisted authors pictured from left to right: David Dennis Jr., Emily Dufton, Channing Gerard Joseph, Casey Parks, and Elizabeth Rush

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

Bio: David Dennis Jr. is a writer, editor, educator, and social commentator based in Atlanta, Georgia. His work has been featured in Atlanta magazine, The Atlantic, ESPN’s The Undefeated, The Washington Post, HuffPost, and Level. He is also a visiting professor of journalism at Morehouse College.

Synopsis: 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)

Bio: Emily Dufton is a writer and drug historian whose work has appeared in Time, CNN, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Washington Post. Her first book, Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America (Basic Books, 2017), traced the impact of grassroots activism on America’s cannabis laws and made her a recognized expert on drug policy. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University.

Synopsis: 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)

Bio: Channing Gerard Joseph teaches at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He is the 2019 winner of a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, a Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship and a 2020 Logan Nonfiction Fellowship. He is a former staff editor and writer at The New York Times and The Associated Press, and he was the first African American editor of San Francisco Weekly. Joseph’s work has appeared around the globe in The Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.

Synopsis: 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)

Bio: Casey Parks is a freelance journalist from Monroe, Louisiana. She spent a decade reporting at The Oregonian, where she wrote about race and LGBTQ issues. She was a Spencer Fellow in education reporting at Columbia University, and her articles about education and the South have appeared in The New Yorker, Oxford American, and The Nation.

Synopsis: 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)

Bio: Elizabeth Rush is the author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction) and Still Lifes From a Vanishing City: Essays and Photographs from Yangon. The recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Rush lives in Rhode Island where she teaches at Brown University.

Synopsis: 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.

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. Judges this year: Miriam Pawel (chair), Sarah M. Broom, and Alex Kotlowitz.

2021 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize shortlist

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

Bio: Becky Cooper is a former New Yorker editorial staff member and senior fellow at Brandeis’ Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Research for this book was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists. She is also the author of Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers (Abrams, 2013).

Synopsis: 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)

Bio: Seyward Darby is the editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine. She previously served as the deputy editor of Foreign Policy and the online editor and assistant managing editor of The New Republic. As a writer, she has contributed to The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Elle, and Vanity Fair, among other publications.

Synopsis: 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?

Darby researched dozens of women across the country before settling on three—Corinna Olsen, Ayla Stewart, and Lana Lokteff. Their respective stories of radicalization upend much of what we assume about women, politics, and political extremism.

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 like Olsen, Stewart and Lokteff 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)

Bio: Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a staff writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. In previous assignments he served tours as legal, military, diplomatic, and foreign correspondent for The Washington Post. His bestselling Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2008.

Synopsis: 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.

Dark Mirror is the story that Gellman could not tell before, a gripping inside narrative of investigative reporting as it happened and a deep dive into the machinery of the surveillance state.

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

Bio: Jessica Goudeau has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Teen Vogue, among other publications, and is a former columnist for Catapult. She produced projects for Teen Vogue (“Ask a Syrian Girl”) and “A Line Birds Cannot See,” a documentary about a young girl who crossed the border into the U.S. on her own. She has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Texas and served as a Mellon Writing Fellow and interim Writing Center director at Southwestern University. Goudeau has spent more than a decade working with refugees in Austin, Texas, and is the co-founder of Hill Tribers, a nonprofit that provided supplemental income for Burmese refugee artisans for seven years.

Synopsis: 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.

There are many differences between these two women, as every refugee story is unique, but in both cases, their lives have been profoundly shaped by U.S. refugee policy. Through their stories, Goudeau traces the way that the moving target of refugee resettlement policy can have a life-or-death impact on those resettling here.

*Both names are pseudonyms created for fear of reprisals against family members still located in their homelands.

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

Bio: Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Warmth of Other Suns. Her debut work won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was named to Time’s 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the 2010s and The New York Times’s list of the Best Nonfiction of All Time. She has taught at Princeton, Emory, and Boston Universities and has lectured at more than two hundred other colleges and universities across the United States and in Europe and Asia.

Synopsis: 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.

Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.

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. Judges: Leon Decosta Dash (chair), Tyler Anbinder, and Julia Keller.

2021 Mark Lynton History Prize shortlist

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

Bio: Walter Johnson is Winthrop Professor of History and professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University. A Missouri native and author of the critically lauded books River of Dark Dreams and Soul by Soul, he lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Synopsis: 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 Votes, and Insisted on Equality for All (Basic Books)

Bio: Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. She is president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the oldest and largest association of women historians in the United States, and she sits on the executive board of the Organization of American Historians. Author of Birthright Citizens and All Bound up Together, she has written for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, USA Today, and other publications. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Synopsis: 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)

Bio: Les Payne (1941–2018), born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist and a former editor at Newsday. A founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, Payne also wrote an award-winning syndicated column. Tamara Payne, his daughter, served as Les Payne’s principal researcher.

Synopsis: 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.”
Introduced by Payne’s daughter and primary researcher, Tamara Payne, who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography, The Dead Are Arising is a penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.

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

Bio: Géraldine Schwarz is a German-French journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker based in Berlin. Those Who Forget is her first book. It won the European Book Prize, Germany’s Winfried Peace Prize, and Italy’s NordSud International Prize for Literature and Science and is currently being translated into eight languages.

Synopsis: Those Who Forget, published to international acclaim and awards, 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.

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)

Bio: William G. Thomas III is the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and professor of history at the University of Nebraska. He was co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, where he was previously a professor. He is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including a 2008 Digital Innovation Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and most recently, a Guggenheim award to support the writing of this book. Thomas is the author of The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale, 2011), a finalist for the 2012 Lincoln Prize. His writing has appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Historical Geography, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Inside Higher Education.

Synopsis: 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.

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 Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Master of Science in Data Journalism degrees as well as 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, the 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 1,600 journalists from 99 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, a website and print 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