Annual Writing Awards From the American Society of Journalists and Authors

From the annual writing awards from the American Society of Journalists and Authors:

First-Person Essay
Winner: Dead Weight, by Claire O’Brien, in Hippocampus Magazine

Claire O’Brien’s deft slice-of-life essay gives readers a peek into a fascinating and difficult job: death investigator. It’s filled with human insight and just the right details; it moves at a fast pace through what could feel like tangents in less capable hands, but blends together into a seamless narrative here about suicide and its aftermath. This piece stays with readers and leaves us wanting the rest of the story, so it’s great to learn that it’s part of a larger project to come.

Honorable Mention: Sight and Insight, by Liane Kupferberg Carter, in Longreads

Liane Kupferberg Carter has strabismus, also known as a lazy eye. Her essay flows through her life and depicts what living with this issue has been like: difficult, when she’s been bullied by both kids and adults; full of love, when she meets her husband and builds a life with him; and insightful, as the title states. Her writing covers her emotions, her pain, her love, and what she learns from it. To find out her insight, be sure to read it—the essay is worth it.

Winner: Why It’s Important to Push Back on ‘Plandemic’—And How to Do It, by Tara Haelle, in

Tara Haelle’s deep dive into the big issue of coronavirus disinformation is comprehensive and compelling, a thoughtful guide for thinking people whose Facebook friends got suckered in. It’s a smart piece that touches on a fresh, new concept and terminology that is a pervasive part of our lives. Like any stellar op-ed, it ticks the “So What?” and “Why Should I Care?” boxes in a deft and engaging way.

Reported Essay
Winner: Your ‘Surge Capacity’ is Depleted—It’s Why You Feel Awful, by Tara Haelle, in Elemental

The pandemic was personal, and Tara Haelle elevated the reported essay form by illuminating deeper currents of human resilience and response to what most of us encountered for the first time. Strong reporting married a transparent and compassionate point of view to propel this reported essay to the top spot as the clear winner.

Winner: Liminal Spaces, by Zachary Petit, in Writer’s Digest

Zachary Petit’s profile of Erik Larson grabs the reader with an engaging lede. The whole article is organized around a single question that pulls you through as he reaches for answers. Petit uses a style that mirrors Erik Larson’s own—thorough and vivid, with precise, strong language—tightly woven and deliberately written. The piece is immersive and evocative: You feel like you’re right there with Larson.

Honorable Mention: This Bird Survived Because She Never Quit, by John Moir, in Audubon Magazine

John Moir brings his subject sympathetically to life from the opening paragraph. The story is deeply researched and developed, with authoritative sources and revealing, telling details. We have an animated and absorbing portrait of a modest yet dedicated scientist still contributing to her profession at age 90.

Winner: The Case of the Autographed Corpse, by Jack El-Hai, for Smithsonian Magazine

Jack El-Hai’s story of how the author of the Perry Mason series came to the defense of an Apache shaman wrongfully convicted of murder is gripping, beautifully researched and written, unfolding like the true crime mysteries we love. One jurist said, “I liked it because it combines history with prevalent issues like race, culture and social justice.” Jack’s subject would make a great screen play or documentary.

Winner: Sunrise Kingdom, by Meg Lukens Noonan, in Coastal Living

Meg Lukens Noonan takes a commonplace destination—the state of Rhode Island—and turns it into a magical land, where rabbits stand at attention and the sea air lends flavor to the stuffed clams. She captivates her readers by weaving the tone of an obscure Wes Anderson film into her visit to the southern New England shore, blending firsthand experience, personal profiles, and local lore to reveal the mystique of the seaside culture.

Social Change
Winner: What are U.S. Airlines Missing? Women Pilots, by Arielle Emmett, in Air & Space

Arielle Emmett’s article spoke most directly to the name of the category: social change. By profiling a group of advocates working within the aviation industry to improve its level of diversity, this article is informative but may also be a catalyst for accelerating this process.

Honorable Mention: The Next Generation of the French Far Right, by Rebecca Nathanson, in VICE World News

This piece offers a close-up view of the young people in France who are affiliating with the radical right-wing parties. The direct quotes from, and the vivid descriptions of, the movement’s up-and-coming leaders brought home the reality of the growing problem of political extremism in France.

Honorable Mention: The Sins of the Father, by Michaela Haas, in Medium

A chilling account of an unregulated, unethical (and very creepy) sperm bank in Atlanta. The intimacy reflected in the personal stories of the subjects draws attention to a social phenomenon sorely in need of reform.

Winner: Adult Women Struggle With Eating Disorders, Too. Here’s Why Treatment Looks Different, by Beth Howard, in Prevention

Beth Howard explores an infrequently discussed fact: Eating disorders are surprisingly common among women in middle age. Howard’s reporting includes the perspectives of experts, delves into research on the topic, and shares the thoughts of women recovering from eating disorders. When considered in the context of so many women losing work, becoming responsible for at-home school, and all the other stresses of 2020, Howard’s piece is particularly interesting and poignant.

Excellence in Reporting
Winner: Climate Change Turns the Tide on Waterfront Living, by Jim Morrison, in The Washington Post Magazine

Jim Morrison’s important story highlights how discussions on the climate problem of rising tides must go beyond resilience to include retreat—and details all the implications for communities, government budgets and homeowners’ lives from pulling back from the waterfront. Morrison writes a compelling narrative on an issue many in U.S. coastal communities may eventually face, which lingers with readers long after.

Honorable Mention: When Can We Really Rest? by Nadja Drost, in The California Sunday Magazine

Nadja Drost provides an unsettling glimpse into how migrants are crossing the dangerous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama—thousands of miles of mountainous rainforest and marshland filled with impassable terrain, robbers, rotting corpses, and the undying hope for a better life in the United States. The strength of the article is her personal experience with a group of migrants thrown together by fate to vividly render their treacherous journey.

Winner: How Manipulating Rodent Memories Can Elucidate Neurological Function, by Amber Dance, in TheScientist

This is a stunner of a feature, expertly crafted. Amber Dance draws the reader in with excellent storytelling while simultaneously educating them, explaining some complex science in language simple enough for lay people to understand. While a specialized topic, we found it to be an accessible, enlightening and fascinating read.

Fitness & Sports
Winner: The Surprising Role Sports Played in Women’s Suffrage, by Haley Shapley, in Teen Vogue

Haley Shapley’s well-researched and well-written story is rich with details that brought the characters to life—a potentially difficult task, given that the events are long past and the principals now deceased. It is particularly timely, given the current intertwining of athletics (both male and female) and activism.

Winner: A Legacy of Endless Limbo, by Lauren Martin, in Temporary

Lauren Martin’s beautifully woven narrative—one that paints individual portraits of “faceless people”—maintains a delicate balance with her in-depth exploration of the multiple layers of politics behind the immigration crisis, the public fear and ultimately, the endless state of limbo. Martin humanizes the experiences of her subjects, defying readers’ assumptions. The story reached great dimensions and depth in physical effort, that sense of limbo, hope breaking through fear. We’re gripped by Martin’s expertise in allowing us to feel the crisis. From there, we try to grasp the “why.”

Honorable Mention: The Remote Workforce, by Dawn Papandrea, in Monster

Dawn Papandrea’s data-driven report sheds light on what may occur when the pandemic’s “infinite present” comes to a close, and delves into the future of work. Papandrea offers a fresh take on a subject that has been widely debated in the past 12 months. The use of specific company data made for a compelling comparative analysis on the trends that are likely our future.

Food & Drink
Winner: Asafoetida’s Lingering Legacy Goes Beyond Aroma, by Vidya Balachander, in Whetstone Magazine

This is a beautifully written piece exploring the spice. The writer strikes an intriguing balance between her personal experience and history, anthropology and politics. A fantastic piece combining in-depth research and skillful writing.

Winner: Collision, by Bhavya Dore, in FiftyTwo

Bhavya Dore has skillfully crafted a compelling narrative that kept judges engaged from beginning to end. Dore incorporates highly technical information into the story line without
dimming the impact of the primary theme—a breakdown in communications that triggered the airliner crash. Dore clearly illustrated the complications of different spoken languages with technology—and how technology can help overcome those complications.

Winner: Get Rich Selling Used Fashion Online—or Cry Trying, by Alden Wicker, in Wired

With an engaging anecdotal lede, strong nut graf and nice kicker, this story is well-written with in-depth reporting. Using multiple sources, the story is full of facts and stats about Poshmark and its evolution while also weaving in the experiences of a Poshmark reseller.

Winner: The Butterfly and the Blaze, by Matthew LaPlante and Jacob Stuivenvolt Allen, in Eugene Weekly

This story is so skillfully put together, with a compelling narrative that conveys a complicated scientific topic that has significant implications as we move deeper into the climate crisis.

The Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism
Winner: “It’s a national tragedy”: What a Devastating Covid-19 Outbreak at a California Slaughterhouse Reveals About the Federal Government’s Failed Pandemic Response, by Nick Roberts and Rosa Amanda Tuiran, in The Counter

More than a gotcha story about a single meatpacking plant, this piece takes a broader look at how the system to protect workers—in meatpacking plants or otherwise—is broken. It succeeds by painting a nuanced picture, demonstrating how both the company and the government fell short.

The Arlenes: Articles That Make a Difference
Winner: We Need to Talk About What Coronavirus Recoveries Look Like, by Fiona Lowenstein, in The New York Times

Fiona Lowenstein, a 26-year-old freelance writer and COVID-survivor, wrote this op-ed about the long-term implications of the novel virus, which inspired the formation of one of the first COVID-patient support groups, now 18,000 members strong. Members formed an internationally recognized patient-led research group that meets regularly with the CDC and has helped author its website pages on long-term COVID effects. They have testified to the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health and co-authored a letter to Congress that resulted in an allocation of $1.15 billion in funding for NIH research into long-term COVID effects. Ed Yong, influential health and science reporter for The Atlantic, wrote that the article had “seismic impact.”

General Nonfiction (Book)
Winner: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor

The masterful combination of storytelling and research, written in a consistently readable style, whether when relating individuals’ stories or explaining scientists’ work, draws the reader into the author’s own ten-year journey to restorative breathing. James Nestor, while going through a rough patch, followed the recommendation of his doctor to attend a class on Sudarshan Kriya, a rhythmic breathing technique invented by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in the 1980s. Any initial skeptical response to the narrative turns into thinking about how to apply this knowledge about how to breathe as our ancestors did.

Winner: Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey

A haunting and compelling story, beautifully written, with a poet’s attention to words. From the author’s intimate, personal voice we are made to feel all that she experiences and journey with her through pain, loss, grief and resilience.

Winner: The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help, by Faris Cassell

This beautifully written book, the product of many years of research, skillfully combines history and biography, using the stories of particular individuals to illuminate a tragic and pivotal era of history in Germany, Austria and the United States. In addition to penetrating insights into deep moral and emotional questions, it offers new information on an aspect of Holocaust history in both Europe and the United States that has received little attention and may surprise many Americans. Beyond all that, it is a gripping read.

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