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2021 Lukas Prizes winners

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard are pleased to announce the four winners and the two finalists of the 2021 J. Anthony 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 virtual awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

Winners and Finalists of the 2021 Lukas Prizes:

The J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Awards

Winner: Emily Dufton, a writer, drug historian, and researcher based near Washington, D.C., has won for ADDICTION, INC.: How the Corporate Takeover of America’s Treatment Industry Created a Profitable Epidemic (University of Chicago Press). Her book traces the complex histories of the medications that are considered the gold standard in treating opioid addiction and 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.

Winner: Casey Parks, a freelance reporter who covers people, poverty, and education, has won for DIARY OF A MISFIT (Knopf). When 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.

The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize

Winner: Jessica Goudeau, a writer with a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Texas who served as a Mellon Writing Fellow and interim Writing Center director at Southwestern University, has won for AFTER THE LAST BORDER: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America (Viking), which 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 recent closed-door policies.

Finalist: Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, staff writer at The Atlantic, and senior fellow at the Century Foundation in New York, has been named a finalist for DARK MIRROR: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State (Penguin Press), the definitive master narrative of Edward Snowden and the modern surveillance state, based on unique access to Snowden and groundbreaking reportage around the world.

The Mark Lynton History Prize

Winner: William G. Thomas III, author, historian, and the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and professor of history at the University of Nebraska, has won for A QUESTION OF FREEDOM: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War (Yale University Press). In this original book, historian William G. Thomas III tells an intensely human and intricate story about the enslaved families of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who 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.

Finalist: Martha S. Jones, an author, historian and the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, professor of history, and a professor at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, has been named a finalist for VANGUARD: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Basic Books), which 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.

About the Prizes:

Established in 1998, the J. Anthony 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 annually presents four awards in three categories.

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.

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

Author Emily Dufton

Emily Dufton

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.

Judges’ citation: Addiction Inc. is a rigorously reported and timely look at how the United States’ war on drugs shifted from a federally subsidized treatment model to one that prioritizes criminalization over compassion and revenue over recovery, resulting in a burgeoning business that enriches doctors, scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and politicians, among others. While honoring the investigative journalist’s mantra — “follow the money” — Emily Dufton never loses sight of her story’s human element, offering empathetic portraits of those engaged in the struggle against addiction.

Winner: Casey Parks’ DIARY OF A MISFIT (Knopf)

Author Casey Parks

Casey Parks

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.

Judges’ citation: Casey Parks’ Diary of a Misfit is a stunning book about her coming of age as a lesbian in the Deep South juxtaposed against the story of a transgender man named Roy Hudgins, who lived his open secret among a community that both protected and ostracized him. What was the real truth of Roy’s life? Was he beloved or reviled? Roy, whose life ended before Parks began to report it, left a legacy of more questions than answers — questions she excavates with tenderness and empathy, drawing on the private journals Roy kept for decades. The author never judges, even when it comes to those who judge her. The result is a brilliant exploration of what it means to be different, to be alive, and to love and be loved.

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.

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

Jessica Goudeau and her book After The Last Border

Jessica Goudeau and her book After The Last Border

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 including “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.

Judges’ citation: With remarkable detail, lyrical prose, and keen insight, After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America brings readers inside the world of refugees in America through a narrative that juxtaposes personal experiences with the broad sweep of historical policy. Jessica Goudeau has done an extraordinary job reconstructing the lives of two refugees — one from Myanmar, the other from Syria — in intimate, compassionate portraits that illuminate some of the most urgent issues of our times. After the Last Border is explanatory, inspirational, gifted storytelling, employed in the cause of a great social good.

Finalist: Barton Gellman’s DARK MIRROR: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State (Penguin Press)

Barton Gellman and his book Dark Mirror

Barton Gellman and his book Dark Mirror

Bio: Barton Gellman is a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist, 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.

Judges’ citation: Dark Mirror is required reading for anyone concerned about the enormous surveillance power of the state — and for those who are not, but should be. As he skillfully unspools the saga of his relationship with Edward Snowden, Bart Gellman renders complicated technological concepts easily accessible. His experience pursuing Snowden and investigating the leaker’s trove of classified documents becomes the spine of a dramatic narrative that probes the profoundly important and unsettling issues at the heart of this deeply reported and well-crafted work.

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.

Winner: 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).

William G. Thomas III ad his book A Question of Freedom

William G. Thomas III and his book A Question of Freedom

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.

Judges’ citation: It begins with a bridge. The opening pages of William G. Thomas III’s astonishing and monumental book, A Question of Freedom, recount his drive to a 2017 religious service at Georgetown University, for which he must first cross the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The service has been convened to force a moral reckoning with ghastly crimes: The enslavement of human beings. The destruction of families. The crushing of souls. Throughout this extraordinary work, Thomas details the court cases brought by slaves to demand their freedom. And he insists that we learn the names of the families — among them, the Queens and the Butlers — whose brave members used the law to require a fledgling nation to live up to its stated ideal of equality.

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

Martha S. Jones and her book Vanguard

Martha S. Jones and her book Vanguard

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.

Judges’ citation: In Vanguard, Martha S. Jones brings to life the heretofore hidden story of how Black women have spent two centuries fighting for their civil and political rights. The saga begins in the 1820s, when Black women began demanding a greater voice in their churches, the abolition movement, and mutual aid organizations. After the Civil War, which brought citizenship for African Americans, Black women emphatically sought equal rights for both their race and gender. When those dreams were not fully realized, a subsequent generation of Black women (many college educated) tried to use the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment as a means to finally win a full voice in American politics. Jones conveys the stories of her protagonists with sophistication, verve, and nuance.


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.
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