A first-hand account from the frontlines of the Iraq war, a history of California farmworkers and the true story of a catastrophic coal mine fire received this year's J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards, bestowed by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.
Winners Evan Wright, Steven Street and Joan Quigley were chosen from 360 submissions, the largest ever in the history of the awards.
Wright won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which comes with a $10,000 award, for Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War. "With clear and powerful prose, Wright has written a classic book of war reportage. Generation Kill is an unforgettable, and at times chilling, portrait of the modern American soldier," the judges noted. "It reveals both the cultural and military mores that members of the Marines First Recon battalion carried with them to Iraq and the ways that they adjusted to the brutal realities of war. The vividness of the writing, the straightforward description of men killing while under fire, the struggles with incompetent leaders and the individual soldiers' reactions to pervasive violence and death make Wright's book a major contribution to the literature of war."
Jason DeParle's American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare was named a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas prize.
Street won the Mark Lynton History Prize, which also carries a $10,000 award, for Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913. Judges cited the book as "the story of California farmworkers from the middle of the 18 th century to the start of the 20 th century. Along the way, it introduces an extraordinary host of individuals and groups: Native Americans, Mexicans, Anglos, Chinese, Japanese and various immigrant Europeans. Taken together, their struggles and sufferings constitute a vivid and historically significant panorama of Western -- and more broadly American -- experience. Deeply researched and movingly written, the book itself is a veritable epic with almost Homerian pathos, bringing to life a lost world whose effects and consequences are felt right to the present day."
One finalist in the Mark Lynton History Prize was noted: Melvin Patrick Ely for his book Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War. Ely recently received the Bancroft Prize from Columbia for Israel on the Appomattox.
Quigley received the J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award, which comes with a $45,000 prize, for Home Fires: The Tragedy of an American Mining Town. "Joan Quigley's work-in-progress, Home Fires, is a multilayered and passionate study of a community in flames: the old mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which sits atop an underground fire that has been burning for more than four decades," the judges said of the work. "After the fire nearly took the life of a young boy, the community mobilized in an attempt to force the government to take action on 'an environmental calamity rivaling Love Canal.' Quigley, a daughter of Centralia, offers a haunting depiction of small-town neighbors struggling against a powerful industry and a distant government -- and finally, against one another -- in their attempt to cope with an environmental catastrophe and the savage backwash of industrial change."
Two finalists for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award were noted: Untitled on the American Legal System by Amy Bach and The Big Squeeze by Steven Greenhouse.
Established in 1998, the Lukas prizes recognize excellence in nonfiction writing -- works that exemplify the literary grace, commitment to serious research and social concern that characterized the distinguished work of the awards' Pulitzer Prize-winning namesake J. Anthony Lukas, who died in 1997. One of the three prizes is named for the late Mark Lynton, a business executive and author, whose family sponsors the three prizes.
The awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday, May 3, at the Graduate School of Journalism, and will be presented by Linda Healey, cochair of the Lukas Prize Committee, and committee member Marion Lynton.