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Image showing the books that won the 2022 Lukas Prize Project awards

Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard are pleased to announce the four winners and two finalists of the 2022 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 awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday, May 3, at Columbia Journalism School.

Winners and Finalists of the 2022 Lukas Prizes:

J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award Winners

  • Roxanna Asgarian, We Were Once a Family: The Hart Murder-Suicide and the System Failing Our Kids (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • May Jeong, The Life: Sex, Work, and Love in America (Atria)

Anthony Lukas Book Prize

  • Winner: Andrea Elliott, Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City (Random House)
  • Finalist: Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Doubleday)

Mark Lynton History Prize

  • Winner: Jane Rogoyska, Surviving Katyń: Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth (Oneworld/Simon & Schuster)
  • Finalist: Katie Booth, The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness (Simon & Schuster)

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.

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: Rachel Louise Snyder (chair), Paul Golob, and David Treuer.

Winner: Roxanna Asgarian, WE WERE ONCE A FAMILY: The Hart Murder-Suicide and the System Failing Our Kids (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Photo of author Roxanna Asgarian with arms crossed

Roxanna Asgarian

Bio: Roxanna Asgarian is an independent investigative journalist focused on the child protection and criminal legal systems. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Time, Vox, and New York Magazine, as well as many other outlets in print and online. A native of Las Vegas, Asgarian has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

WE WERE ONCE A FAMILY: The Hart Murder-Suicide and the System Failing Our Kids explores the deeper story behind the Hart family tragedy. To be published in 2023, the book focuses on the birth families of the children spanning generations, and illuminates how the failures of America’s child welfare system contributed to the tragedy.

Judges’ citation: Tracing the devastating story of the Hart family’s shocking murder- suicide after the children’s adoptive mothers drove the entire family off a California cliff, Asgarian paints a moving portrait of lost lives and failed systems. With an ever-present lens on poverty and racism, Asgarian’s investigation illuminates the innumerable ways child welfare agencies failed these six young Black children, indicting the ways the most vulnerable among us are imperiled by the very systems created to protect them.

Winner: May Jeong, THE LIFE: Sex, Work, and Love in America (Atria Books)

Author Jeong May standing in a field partially covered with snow

Jeong May

Bio: May Jeong is a reporter at Vanity Fair. Her reporting from Afghanistan has received the South Asian Journalist Association’s Daniel Pearl Award and the Bayeux Calvados Normandy Award for War Correspondents. Her work has also been recognized by the Kurt Schork Awards and the Livingston Awards.

THE LIFE: Sex, Work, and Love in America examines the forces shaping sex work and the lives of sex workers, and how these forces interact with race, gender, and class. Jeong explores the limitations of our criminal system when it deals with prostitution and sex trafficking, often criminalizing those who are victims as much as they are breakers of unjust laws. Investigating the various paths taken to sex work, THE LIFE probes the injustices, indignities, and redemptions that sex workers experience, and lays bare the intersections of immigration, labor, sexuality, and power.

Judges’ citation: Carefully piecing together the vast mosaic of forces that often compel sex work in America today — poverty, neglect, racism, addiction, discrimination — Jeong dissects the ways in which women are punished disproportionately for the actions of men. Her tireless reporting on the chaotic and haphazard world of domestic sex trafficking grapples with the very idea of how we think about sex workers today, including not only the stigma around them, but also the very idea of what it means — culturally, criminally, and sociologically — to rescue someone.

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, 2021, and December 31, 2021. Judges this year: Bruce Tracy (chair), Jessica Bruder, Julia Pastore, and Thomas Chatterton Williams.

Winner: Andrea Elliott, INVISIBLE CHILD: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City (Random House)

Head shot of author Andrea Elliott and the cover of her book "Invisible Child"

Andrea Elliott and her book "Invisible Child"

Bio: Andrea Elliott is an investigative reporter for The New York Times and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, a George Polk Award, an Overseas Press Club Award, and other honors. In 2015, she was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence, given to one alumnus under the age of 45. Her book Invisible Child was chosen by The New York Times as one of the top 10 books of 2021.

INVISIBLE CHILD: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City follows eight years in the life of Dasani, a homeless girl in Brooklyn. Elliott weaves the story of Dasani’s childhood with the history of her ancestors, tracing their passage from slavery to the Great Migration north. As Dasani comes of age, New York City’s homeless crisis has exploded, deepening the chasm between rich and poor. She must guide her siblings through a world riddled by hunger, violence, racism, drug addiction, and the threat of foster care. When she finally escapes city life to enroll in a boarding school, she faces an impossible question: What if leaving poverty means abandoning your family?

Judges’ citation: INVISIBLE CHILD is a tour de force of immersive reporting and a meticulous and unflinching depiction of intergenerational American poverty. Andrea Elliott spent eight years following her subject, 11-year-old Dasani, and her parents and seven siblings in and out of New York City homeless shelters, courts, schools, welfare offices, and ultimately the Pennsylvania boarding school that offers the first chance of hope. Exemplifying the best of the Lukas tradition, Elliott exposes the granular texture of daily life with deep empathy, the punishing sameness of material want, and in the process paints a sweeping portrait of contemporary American life still marked by prejudices and injustices set in motion in the past. As the number of homeless Americans continues to rise, this is a book that demands and deserves our attention.

Finalist: Patrick Radden Keefe, EMPIRE OF PAIN: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Doubleday)

Head shot of author Patrick Radden Keefe and the cover of his book "Empire of Pain"

Patrick Radden Keefe and his book "Empire of Pain"

Bio: Patrick Radden Keefe is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author, most recently, of the New York Times bestseller Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, was selected as one of the 10 best books of 2019 by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and The Wall Street Journal, and was named one of the “10 Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade” by Entertainment Weekly. His previous books are The Snakehead and Chatter.

EMPIRE OF PAIN: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty examines the history of the Sackler family, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin. It chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and the scorched-earth legal tactics that they used to evade accountability. Evoking the excesses of America’s second Gilded Age, EMPIRE OF PAIN is a study of impunity among the super elite and an investigation of the naked greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s great fortunes.

Judges’ citation: EMPIRE OF PAIN is a revelatory look inside the rise of one of the most powerful and ruthless dynasties in America, whose indifference toward the consequences of their actions is enabled by the astronomical wealth and privilege that shield them. With reporting and research of impressive depth and breadth, Patrick Radden Keefe weaves a wealth of facts, figures, depositions, first-hand interviews, and original documents into a harrowing and heartbreaking reading experience. This gripping, suspenseful narrative breathes new life into a story we might have thought we already knew. EMPIRE OF PAIN is a searing portrait of a massive public health crisis — one of the most devastating in recent memory — as well as the ambition, greed, and insularity of the family at its center.

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, 2021, and December 31, 2021. Judges: Julia Keller (chair), Anthony DePalma, and Kerri Greenidge.

Winner: Jane Rogoyska’s SURVIVING KATYŃ: Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth (Oneworld/Simon & Schuster)

Head shot of author Jane Rogoyska and the cover of her book "Surviving Katyń"

Jane Rogoyska and her book "Surviving Katyń"

Bio: Jane Rogoyska is the author of Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa. She has a particular interest in the turbulent period from the 1930s to the Cold War in Europe. Her research into the 1940 Katyń Massacre led to her first novel, Kozłowski (long-listed for the 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize) and Still Here: A Polish Odyssey, which she wrote and presented for BBC Radio 4.

The Katyń Massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war was a crime committed in utmost secrecy in April-May 1940 by the Soviet Union’s interior ministry, on the direct orders of Joseph Stalin. For nearly 50 years, the Soviet regime succeeded in maintaining the fiction that Katyń was a Nazi atrocity, the story unchallenged by Western governments fearful of upsetting a powerful wartime ally and Cold War adversary. SURVIVING KATYŃ: Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth explores the decades-long search for answers, focusing on the experience of those individuals with the most at stake — the few survivors of the massacre and the Polish wartime forensic investigators — whose quest for the truth in the face of an inscrutable and utterly ruthless enemy came at great personal cost.

Judges’ citation: To the chilly and brutal abstraction of the phrase “mass grave,” SURVIVING KATYŃ provides an eloquent and crucial clarification: They were individuals, those 22,000 Polish prisoners of war secretly murdered during World War II and buried in a Polish forest. For decades the crime was blamed on the Nazis. As Rogoyska traces with a quietly masterful breadth of detail, however, evidence now proves that Stalin personally ordered the massacre. Thus her book is part detective story, part historical narrative, part biography of the victims, and part moral reckoning with urgent relevance to contemporary conflicts.

Finalist: Katie Booth, THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness (Simon & Schuster)

Head shot of author Katie Booth and the cover of her book "The Invention of Miracles"

Katie Booth and her book "The Invention of Miracles"

Bio: Katie Booth teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in The Believer, Catapult, McSweeney’s, and Harper’s Magazine, and has been high- lighted on Longreads and Longform. Her piece “The Sign for This” was a notable essay in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays. She was raised in a mixed hearing and deaf family. This is her first book.

THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness provides a new perspective on an American icon, revealing the true genesis of the telephone and its connection to another, far more disturbing legacy of Alexander Graham Bell’s: his efforts to suppress American Sign Language. The book offers an account of the deaf community’s fight to reclaim a once-forbidden language. Booth witnessed the damaging impact of Bell’s legacy on her own family, leading her to spend more than 15 years poring over Bell’s papers, Library of Congress archives, and the records of schools for the deaf across America. What she discovered overturned everything she thought she knew about language, power, deafness, and the telephone.

Judges’ citation: A complex and profoundly moving historical saga, THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES is an insightful portrayal of the extraordinary life of Alexander Graham Bell, as well as a detailed retelling of his decades-long crusade to teach the deaf to speak with their lips and not their hands. Inventing the telephone was merely a first act to his true life’s work — bringing language to the deaf community that included his mother and his wife. Relying on Bell’s own papers and those of his contemporaries, as well as diving deeply into the archives of the deaf community, the author, Katie Booth, focuses on the cultural impact of Bell’s work with the deaf without shying away from the more controversial aspects of his mission — bypassing sign language, interpreting deaf genealogy, and flirting with the now discredited science of eugenics before distancing himself from its most radical ideas. Booth brackets Bell’s story with a passionate rendering of her own experiences and resentments as a hearing person with deaf relatives who she feels have been hurt by Bell’s advocacy. Superbly written and decidedly subjective, THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES provides a challenging portrait of an imperfect genius whose dedication to helping the deaf to live fully in mainstream society may have harmed some of the very people he cared about most.

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