The 2021 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant

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Rebecca Clarren Ashley D. Farmer Kevin González Sangamithra Iyer Lorelei Lee Catherine Venable Moore Nina Siegal Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham



The Whiting Foundation recognizes that works of deeply researched and imaginatively composed nonfiction are essential to our culture but come into being at great cost to writers in time and resources. The Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant of $40,000 is awarded to writers in the process of completing a work of nonfiction to the highest aesthetic and intellectual level. It is intended to encourage original and ambitious projects by giving grantees the additional means to do exacting research and devote time to composition.




Rebecca Clarren

An American Inheritance: Jews, Lakota, and the Cost of Free Land Forthcoming from Penguin Books History / Reportage

Judges’ citation:

The project:

A wide, deep, and ambitious book, one that peers inward at the heart of the country and its history of genocide at the same time it looks across the ocean. This is a brilliantly conceived family history, one that places questions of responsibility and atonement at the center of the conversation about America’s political future. Striking a balance among the overlapping issues of Indigenous rights, inherited responsibility, retribution, and healing is a complex task, but Rebecca Clarren approaches her project with candor and clarity.

An American Inheritance investigates the parallel histories of the author’s family, who fled anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia in the early 20th century to settle on land in South Dakota given to them by the U.S. government, and the Lakota who had been forced off that land, examining the question of what happens when the oppressed become the oppressors.

At their mother’s insistence, the four oldest Sinykin kids had all filed for their own free land. Enticed by the papers, railroad ads, and federal financial incentives, more than 100,000 newcomers, many of them immigrants, moved to western South Dakota between 1900 and 1915. My family, along with approximately thirty other Jews, homesteaded an area that locals today still refer to as Jew Flats. By this time, the Sinykins and their neighbors had built the shacks required to prove to the government that they were in it for the long run and deserving of that free land. In the treeless plains, most settlers opted to build using cheap, thin plywood, hauled from faraway towns and lined with red or blue tarpaper. The light of kerosene lamps flickered through windows; cracks in the tarpaper glimmered “almost as thick as the stars,” recalled one neighbor. Built in a matter of days, these “houses” were no more impressive than a packing box. And yet they must have been proud of these one-room homes, a serious promotion from a sod house. By the time my family got to Jew Flats, more than seventy Jewish farm settlements, composed of anywhere from a few dozen to 2,500 people, had been established throughout the West, including California, Oregon, the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado, and Utah.


This book, like all books, is a reflection of the time in which it is written; it speaks as much to the present as to the past. What is clear from this vantage is that the freedoms American society afforded to the Sinykins were denied to their Lakota neighbors. Unlike their Lakota neighbors, the children of ghost dancers, who were being jailed for practicing their culture, the Jews of Jew Flats were free to worship how they liked. They had their mikvah. They had their own rabbi, Hyman Kozberg, Harry’s cousin, who was educated at the Slutsk Yeshiva and trained as a shochet, a Jewish butcher, able to kosher meat. He taught the children Hebrew and led services, using a Torah that they’d brought with them from Sioux City. “In the midst of the prairie, [Faige Etke] maintained her rigid piety and a kosher home,” Aunt Etta wrote in the family history in the 70s. Unlike their Lakota neighbors, the Sinykins were free to educate their children however they wanted. They hired their non-Jewish neighbors, the Calloway siblings, to teach their kids and some of the adults in twin claim shacks a few miles from Harry and Faige Etkes. Unlike the segregated Indian schools, settlers mixed with non-Jews, boys and girls all together. Unlike the Lakota, who weren’t able to farm or ranch collectively with their relatives because the Indian Agents, in their assimilationist drive, often doled out allotments far apart, the Sinykins and their cousins and friends survived by collective effort, unbothered by government interference. Unlike most Lakota, who couldn’t get a bank account or handle their own money, the Jews of Jew Flats could and did leverage the worth of their land and their cattle for a mortgage or bank loan. Later, Jack Sinykin will pose with White Bull, and other family members will take snaps at roadsides with people in traditional Dakota and Lakota dress; later, there will be rumors of bootlegging and of cousins who helped Lakota to bury their dead; but at this point, in the early 1900s, there’s no archival evidence that they knew their Lakota neighbors at all. The homesteaders, who had minimal interaction with the Lakota, had no idea how different their opportunities were from those of the people on the other side of the invisible wall that defined the reservation. This was “evidence of a successful federal Indian policy,” explains historian Mikal Eckstrom, whose ancestry is both German and Nimiipuu, and who is one of the few American historians who has studied the relationship between Jews and Native Americans. By keeping these spaces separate, the Bureau of Indian Affairs believed it could more easily control Natives and, says Eckstrom, “keep settlers safe.” Despite the fact that no one on Jew Flats or any of their white neighbors ever reported any Lakota attacks on white settlers, and in some cases the complete opposite was true, a culture of fear, created by the Buffalo Bill show, dime store novels, and early movies, thrived on the prairie and beyond. Rebecca Clarren has been reporting on the denizens and landscapes of the American West for more than twenty years. Her journalism, which is frequently supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and has won a Hillman Prize and an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, has appeared in such magazines as The Nation, Indian Country Today, and High Country News. Her novel Kickdown (Sky Horse, 2018) was shortlisted for a PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction; The Washington Post called it “an impressive debut.”


Ashley D. Farmer

Queen Mother Audley Moore: Mother of Black Nationalism Forthcoming from University of North Carolina Press Historical biography

Judges’ citation:

The project:

An essential book: this is a biography of not only an extraordinary and understudied figure but an entire movement. Queen Mother Audley Moore gives the fraught, feminized, and often unglamorous work of organizing its due, and it contributes to our working knowledge of the history of civil rights, filling in the gaps throughout the twentieth century. Farmer’s groundbreaking and tenacious research allows her to build what other writers claimed was impossible: a full-length biography of the mother of modern Black nationalism.

If Rosa Parks was the mother of the civil rights movement, then Audley Moore midwifed modern Black nationalism. Tracing her nearly century-long life, Farmer’s work highlights Moore’s role as a key architect of twentieth-century Black radicalism and shows how this under-appreciated activist fundamentally altered widespread understandings of Black struggle today.


Nothing transformed Moore’s life more dramatically than Marcus Garvey’s 1922 visit to New Orleans. She recounted this story to anyone who would listen for the next seventy-five years. “Let me tell you about the time Garvey came to New Orleans,” she would begin. We heard that Garvey was coming to New Orleans, but the police would not allow him to speak. Garvey came and they arrested him. The people raised so much sand until they had to let him out that night. We all heard that Garvey was going to be at the Longshoreman’s Hall in New Orleans. Everybody said, ‘He’ll speak tonight. Believe me, he’ll speak tonight.’ And they went and bought ammunition. Bullets. I had a suitcase full. My husband had a suitcase full. I had two guns—one in my bosom and one in my pocketbook. My husband had a 45. ... The police came in the Longshoreman’s Hall. They filed in, down through the center aisle, and lined themselves up, each man on a row of benches. Moore’s voice would always lower to a whisper when she continued. Garvey came in, and we applauded. Then he said, ‘My friends, I want to apologize to you.’ These were his exact words. I have never forgotten them. ‘I want to apologize to you for not speaking last night. But the Mayor of New Orleans permitted himself to be used as a stooge by the chief of police. That is the reason I was not able to speak to you.’ The police jumped up,” Moore recounted, her voice rising in volume, and said ‘I’ll run you in.’ At that point, everybody stood on the benches, every gun came out, and they all yelled, ‘Speak, Garvey, speak!’ … The police filed out of there like little puppy dogs wagging their tails. This story became the cornerstone of Moore’s Black nationalist politics and the essence of activist lore. It was also—mostly—true.

Ashley D. Farmer is an Associate Professor of History and African & African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era and a co-editor of New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition. Farmer’s scholarship has appeared in numerous venues, including The Black Scholar and The Journal of African American History. Her research has also been featured in several popular outlets, including Vibe, NPR, The Chronicle Review, and The Washington Post.


Kevin González

Juracán

Forthcoming from Pantheon Memoir / History / Cultural reportage

Judges’ citation:

The project:

Artful and unique, Juracán is a timely salvo directed at a blind spot in mainstream American consciousness. González’s voice grabs you by the collar, as funny and combative in its critique of imperialism as it is sympathetic and wise in its portraits of the author’s family. Formally experimental but eminently readable, this mashup of memoir and cultural history is a joy and an education, a book that could become a classic.

Juracán is a memoir about growing up in Puerto Rico in the 80s and 90s, of immigrating to the United States in search of opportunities not available on the island, and of being caught between languages and cultures. At the heart of the book is the search for the author’s father, distant in youth, who during Hurricane María became trapped in his apartment without running water or electricity until González was able to return to the island to rescue him. Juracán — hurricane — is the name the native Taíno Indians bestowed upon their god of chaos and destruction, who would descend upon the island to air his wrath by way of torrential storms. This mythical figure serves as an overarching metaphor as the book examines Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States.

I believe I’ve come to understand what my father was trying to say whenever I complained about my name, misguided and shame-filled as he was, sipping his Cuba Libre at Duffy’s or Dunbar’s or The Hungry Sailor or The Reef or Shannan’s Pub or The Hideaway or The J&B Lounge or La Playita or The Prime Time or Lupi’s or Don Pedro’s or The Round Bar or Billiard Palace or El Punto or Andy’s Café or Pizza City or Loíza Street Station or The Brass Cactus or The Empress. In the 1950s, my grandfather won the first lottery drawn in Puerto Rico and promptly shipped my father off to prep school in Massachusetts, where his classmates— and, on one occasion, a faculty member—had referred to him as a spic. Because he looked like them, and because he believed he was like them in every other way, in his estimation it was his name that had given him away. Hector the Inspector, they called him. Hector the Molester. Speedy Gonzales. “¡Ándale, ándale! ¡Arriba, arriba! ¡Epa, epa, epa!” they yelled. Unlike me, my father was quick to let his hands go, and so he was quick to get expelled, whereas the American boys he fought were always let off with a wrist-slap. At Blair Academy,


his third and final prep school, he got into a fistfight with a senator’s son from Montgomery, Alabama, over a lewd comment this boy made about my father’s girlfriend, Marisol, a girl he’d go on to marry and whose photograph he kept atop his dorm room desk. My father fractured the boy’s nose, and after they’d been separated, the boy picked up a winter boot and hurled it at my father’s face. It shattered the left lens of his eyeglasses, and a shard of glass sliced through his cornea and his iris, splashing into the posterior chamber of his eye. My father remembers waking up after emergency surgery in Morristown, New Jersey, a heavy darkness pressing its fist against his face. His head throbbed, and when he moved his hand to the main source of the pain, he felt the rough fabric of a bandage. It felt as if a new layer of skin had been surgically implanted, sealing off his sight, and he began to rip it with his fingers. Particles of light began to dilute the dark, curving into vision until his hand, then a bed, then the foggy room took shape before him. The left side of his face was excruciating to the touch, yet he sat up and stumbled to the mirror, and when he saw what he saw—the raw meat of his face, the gauze soaked red with blood—and, even worse, when he shut his right eye and saw nothing at all, he began to scream. He kicked a table to the ground. He threw a chair against the wall. A nurse ran in, then rushed out and came back with two orderlies who restrained him while she injected a sedative. “Calm down,” she said. “It’s all right, you’re all right,” she said, but after two more surgeries at Columbia Presbyterian and another at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Florida, the doctors could not restore his sight, which is to say that ever since he was 16, my father has been blind in his left eye. In part because of these years at prep school, he has gone through life loathing his own name as much as I’ve loathed mine. But surely it wasn’t just his name those white boys targeted, it must have also been his language, his Spanish accent, though when I suggested this to him one day at the Round Bar, he made an incredulous, insulted face. “Excuse me? My accent? What accent?” he responded in your language. “I beg your pardon? You’re the one with the poor English! My English is top-notch!” He sipped his drink. “I’m sorry, are you familiar with that phrase? Top-notch? Do you know what that means? It means my English is first-rate!” He raised his voice, so that his American buddies at the bar would look our way and laugh. “Are you listening to me? These are such great phrases for a Puerto Rican guy to know! Top-notch! First-rate! Goddamn, my English is so great, sometimes I amaze myself!” My father named me what he named me because our island is small, and he was convinced I would leave someday. This name, coupled with the privilege afforded by my skin, might give me an upper hand by allowing me to conceal our old colonial scars and to pass as the colonizer who brandishes the knife, as the bastard boy who made him blind.

Kevin González holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Narrative, Playboy, Oxford American, Virginia Quarterly Review, and American Short Fiction, as well as in Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best New American Voices. His work has been awarded the Narrative Prize, the Playboy College Fiction Prize, the MichenerCopernicus Award, as well as fellowships from the NEA, the MacDowell Colony, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He divides his time between San Juan and Pittsburgh, where he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University.


Sangamithra Iyer

Governing Bodies Forthcoming from Milkweed Editions Ecology / Memoir / Reportage

Judges’ citation:

The project:

This project brims with loveliness; Iyer writes about family and ecology and the legacy of colonialism with enduring insight and gentle, heartbreaking passion. She delivers a subtle, meditative exploration on grief and nonviolence, an international and intergenerational voyage through shared histories and a consideration of what we owe to each other and the natural world.

Governing Bodies is a lyrical manifesto and an ethical reckoning of the ways earthly bodies are controlled by and liberated from colonialism, capitalism, and speciesism. The book intertwines the story of the author’s paternal grandfather, who quit his job as a civil engineer in colonial Burma to become a water diviner and join the Freedom Movement in India, with the author’s own journeys as a civil engineer, writer, and activist. It foregrounds the rights of animals, the mythology and meanders of rivers, and the strength and vulnerability of the earth. Governing Bodies inhabits liminal spaces and acts as a catena, linking wide-ranging subjects from personal and planetary grief to invisible inheritances, and asks what it means to embody nonviolence.

What you must understand is that when I tell you a story about my body, I cannot separate it from a story about water. And a story about water is also about family. And a story about my family is rooted in a story about the earth. And when I tell you about the earth, I must tell you about elephants and chimpanzees, cows and chickens, coral and trees, monkeys and bees. What harms one body, harms all bodies. Like tributaries to the same river, our stories are entwined. The Irrawaddy River in Burma is named after the mythical, multi-trunked white elephant Airavata, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word Iravat, “one who is produced from water.” My family history is a story produced from water. If I were to trace my grandfather’s engineering career, I’d follow it down the Irrawaddy River. If I were to trace mine, I’d follow it from streams in the Catskill Mountains through aqueducts and tunnels to New York City’s


pipes and faucets. My experience is also in the Yosemite Valley—Sierra Nevada snowmelt that gravity carries to San Francisco. It is on rooftops and in rain barrels in Cameroon; in buckets in the Sanaga River. These lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson were passed down in my family from my grandfather to my father to me: And out again, I curve and flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever. Thatha, my paternal grandfather, worked for the British in Burma before moving his family back to southern India in the 1930s to pursue a life of activism in the Tamil Nadu town of Kallakurichi. This was my grandfather’s attempt to practice nonviolence while the society around him was teeming with oppression, from both colonialism and the caste system. Thatha traded in his civil engineering post and became a water diviner to develop wells for communities previously denied access to water. Water and sanitation were closely linked to social justice. My father—the youngest of Thatha’s thirteen children—was born into this utopian experiment in Kallakurichi. Revolution began by learning to spin. The children all wore homespun khadi clothes. Education was learning the landscape, climbing trees, drawing water, and reciting poetry. My father grew up studying Sanskrit and English in addition to speaking Tamil at home. Each day, he copied a page of the dictionary by hand and memorized Shakespeare, Tennyson, Goldsmith, and others from a poetry collection Thatha gave to him. My father gave me this worn copy of Memory Work and Appreciation, so that I could also recite the same poems “by heart.” This book of British verse was the only physical artifact passed on between our three generations. I never met my grandfather but found it curious that Thatha, who quit the British in Burma to join the freedom movement in India, showered his children with the oppressor’s literature. But I later realized that relationships are complicated, and perhaps non-cooperation need not apply to poetry. When I was 25 years old, I recited those lines of Tennyson to my father at Good Samaritan Hospital, in New York, where I was born. I didn’t know he was going to die, or if he heard me. My father left the world in the same place I entered it.

Sangamithra Iyer is an engineer and environmental planner. Her writing has been published by The Kenyon Review, n+1, Creative Nonfiction, Hippocampus, and Newtown Literary and has been anthologized in several essay collections. She was an Emerging Writer Fellow at Aspen Summer Words and a finalist for the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. She has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Jerome Foundation Literature Travel/Study grant and residency at the Camargo Foundation. She served as an editor of Satya magazine, focused on animal advocacy, environmentalism, veganism, and social justice.


Lorelei Lee

Anything of Value Forthcoming from HarperCollins Memoir / Cultural reportage

Judges’ citation:

The project:

Armed with personal experience, activist chops, and a law degree, Lorelei Lee is a triple threat to public misperceptions of sex work. Their work maps the complicated spaces between sex workers and “civilians,” dissolving stigma and well-worn stereotypes, insisting powerfully on the dignity of the individual. Anything of Value dismisses old tropes that sort sex workers into two categories — exploited and empowered — and opens the door onto a more rational, complex, and humane conversation.

Organizer and sex worker Lee’s Anything of Value blends memoir, history, and critical theory to reevaluate our cultural understanding of sex work and its intersections with class, race, gender, labor, bodily integrity, and the law — and ultimately argues for sex work decriminalization.

In the radical narrative, all sex trading is understood as trafficking and our ability to consent does not exist. In the competing liberal-libertarian narrative, those of us who have been publicly described as having “consented” to our work are categorically characterized as “empowered,” as “choice feminists.” Under these constructs, we have only two options: to be victims, which means we need to be rescued from our work – even if that rescue happens in handcuffs – or to be empowered sex workers, which means saying we’ve never experienced violence or constrained choice, that we love our jobs all day every day, and that to be free we only need access to the free market. (As the activist Kaya Lin has said, “If you are a sex worker, you can’t have bad days.”) In terms of policy, these positions translate quite literally into the threat of being jailed versus the possibility of surviving using the methods we already use. The threat of further criminalization has pushed many people to publicly embrace the latter – to say, “I love doing sex work. I only want the state to leave me alone.” Often that seems like the most we could hope for.


Even as we reach for the less terrible of two terrible ideas, we’re constantly reminded of how little say we have at all. Neither liberal feminists nor libertarians, radical feminists nor the religious right, can hear us speak in our own words. They do not want to hear us; they want to collect the scraped-bare “facts” of our lives and call them data. They want to interrogate us. Who did you work for? How young were you? Do you have papers? Do you have children? Do you have parents? Have you been to school? Do you speak English? What are your traumas? Who hurt you? Do you love it? Do you really love it? How much do you love it? During a recent visit I made to a law school class, a student asked me, “Is there a level of poverty at which a woman can’t consent?” Again and again in my own life, people have demanded to know what has been done to me, how I was exploited, what kind of trauma or poverty pushed me into believing I had no other options than to trade sex. Or they have asked to hear about how trading sex has been my pathway to empowerment, to sexual adventure. They have asked me to slot my experiences neatly into one story line or another, or demanded I hand over the facts of my life so they could do it for me. In 2014, when the California State assemblyman Isadore Hall authored a bill to mandate the use of condoms as well as state-recorded testing of performers in adult films, my coworkers and I took buses and trains up to the state capitol to testify against the bill. The elaborate, community-driven testing regimen we relied on had prevented even a single onset transmission of HIV since 2004, and it would be seriously undermined by the proposed legislation. Perhaps worse, Hall’s bill would have created a state registry of performers’ legal names and health information. We gathered the signatures of more than six hundred performers, a thick ream of paper that I carried clutched to my chest, shielding my body from the Senate Appropriations Committee with this physical evidence of our collective will. I remember Hall testifying to the committee that he had written this bill because someone needed to be “a voice for the voiceless,” and that person would be him. I sat beside him at a podium microphone. My coworkers stood in a long line at a microphone behind him, waiting for him to stop so we could speak.

Lorelei Lee is a writer, sex worker activist, porn performer, organizer, and juris doctor, a Justice Catalyst Fellow, co-founder of the Disabled Sex Workers Coalition, founding member of both the Upstate New York Sex Workers Coalition and Decrim MA, and researcher with Hacking// Hustling. Their writing appears in n+1, Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Buzzfeed, WIRED, The Establishment, Denver Quarterly, The Feminist Porn Book, and elsewhere.


Catherine Venable Moore

Disunion: West Virginia Coal Miners and America’s Other Civil War Forthcoming from Random House History

Judges’ citation:

The project:

A gorgeously written, meticulously researched account of a critical episode of labor history, Disunion tells a centuryold story of solidarity and the struggle that united Black, white, and immigrant miners against wealthy industrialists. Reading it, one can almost feel the tension in the air of the union meetings, the hopes and disappointments of its members. Moore’s characters could have stepped out of a Sherwood Anderson story. Her passion for this moment in history — widely considered the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War — opens up a discussion vital to contemporary American life.

Disunion is a history of the West Virginia Mine Wars, one of the most dramatic struggles for civil rights that this country has known, but also one of the nation’s most obscure. In recounting the stories of three major strikes leading up to the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 — commonly referred to as the largest armed insurrection in U.S. history since the Civil War — Moore brings to life the miners and their families, many of them immigrant or Black, and the tenuous alliances they forged as they repeatedly went up against the powerful combination of corporations that exerted autocratic power over their lives.

Viewed from above, the surface of southern West Virginia suggests an ancient, finely wrinkled brain. Each gyrus is a mountain ridge; each sulcus a groove that cradled the water that wore it down: a creek, a watershed, a hollow, a whole territory of life, webbing out. If West Virginia is the central lobe of Appalachia’s brain, the New River Gorge is its longitudinal fissure, and the water its gleaming information. Deep within the Gorge, underneath Greenwood Mountain, Bill Clark lay on his left side on a clammy floor, swinging his pick with his right arm to cut a swath three or four feet


deep at the bottom of the seam of coal, a task that would take him several hours. As his body ground against the grit of the floor, his skin broke, and the grime-filled cuts would turn to tight blue tattoos if not properly cleaned. Clark and his fellow Greenwood miners were piece workers, tonnage men, paid by the carload and not by the hour. Clark furnished his own powder and tools and had little supervision by the pit boss, who directed underground operations. The superintendent, Brown, took care of the business end of things but rarely interfered with his day-to-day. He dug coal at his own pace and could leave his place at any time, for any reason. Off the job, Greenwood Coal Company exerted a disturbing amount of control over his life; but here, he was more or less his own man. Clark listened for the roof working, awake to any strange sounds or sensations that could signal a roof fall. He was highly literate in the language of coal. Some mines had trembling roofs that spoke loudly and clearly of trouble; others were quiet but no less menacing. A few years back, a Greenwood miner was killed at the coal face by a kettle bottom, one of the petrified tree stumps, heavy as iron, that occasionally dropped from the ceiling without warning. Not to mention the dangers of the final step of a job, when miners took out the very pillars supporting the rock above their heads. Luther Miner: slate fall. George Bland: slate fall. William Hampton: roof fall. Enoch Cotton: slate fall. Clark would have heard their names now and again, spoken as words of caution. Already, the first cutting machines were rendering his labor obsolete. Greenwood hadn’t yet adopted the technology, but it was only a matter of time. The machines would bring new hazards—more opportunities to be mangled, more ignitable dust—though the miners themselves were usually blamed for the accidents that killed or maimed them. An industry-wide “doctrine of individual responsibility” ensured that the burden of staying alive that day fell squarely on Clark’s own shoulders, and that the cost of losing him would be paid by his loved ones alone.

Catherine Venable Moore’s writing has appeared in Best American Essays, Oxford American, VICE, and elsewhere. She grew up in the Mountain State and earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. In 2021, she was named a Public Scholar by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Moore’s work has also earned fellowships from MacDowell, Millay Arts, Vermont Studio Center, MASS MoCA, and the West Virginia Humanities Council. Catherine is the co-founder of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, among other public history projects, and lives in Ansted, West Virginia.


Nina Siegal

The Diary Keepers Forthcoming from Ecco / HarperCollins Cultural history

Judges’ citation:

The project:

Braiding together reflections from seven ordinary, yet utterly fascinating, diary keepers during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, this kaleidoscopic work of history is intensified by the author’s sensitive contextualization. The entries are haunting and intimate; some are burned into the brain, such as a diarist taking a train to eat cherries in the countryside while another train deports Jews to Germany. Siegal transforms the drudgery of archival sifting into an act of grace. Potentially explosive, this book could lead to the Dutch reexamining themselves and Europe reassessing the Dutch.

The Diary Keepers was born out of a New York Times article, “The Lost Diaries of War,” which explored a trove of more than 2,000 diaries collected by the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. The author has chosen seven diaries from the collection, which she weaves together to tell the story of the war from varying perspectives, like a multicharacter novel. They include narratives of Jews in hiding and imprisoned, a grocery store owner who became a member of the resistance, a young, unaffiliated factory worker in Amsterdam, and a police officer and Nazi collaborator who ran a special unit to hunt Jews. Taken together, their stories create a fascinating mosaic of life in the Netherlands in the five harrowing years from Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands to May 5, 1945, when the occupation ended.

I live about a five-minute bike ride from the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, and almost every day I bike past it with my daughter on our way to her school. Before the coronavirus shutdown, hundreds of people lined up in front of the door every morning, waiting to get in, to learn about this young girl who transformed our understanding of World War II. I haven’t yet told my 9-year-old daughter the story of Anne Frank, though she knows the vague outlines of the narrative. I feel she is too young for me to drop the whole weight of the Holocaust on her shoulders without the context of a supportive Jewish culture and community. Imagine if that’s the main thing she came to understand about being Jewish — that we had to hide or be killed? Right here, on this street?


I think a lot about Anne, and how some of the people who lived on this street were the parents or the grandparents of the people who live there now — my neighbors. I reflect on how close we live to one another in this very small city, which we often call a village. People must have witnessed just about everything. Before I tell my daughter Anne’s story I want to be able to answer the inevitable question that will follow: “But mommy, how is it possible that everyone else let that happen?” What can I say about what the others were feeling as they watched the Jews get rounded up in public squares? What went through their minds as they heard the doors knocked down in the middle of the night? Some, Nazi sympathizers and collaborators, were pleased; some were decent people tormented by what they saw, but paralyzed. I need to know their minds. Then I can tell my girl. These days, what’s on my mind most often is Cornelis Komen’s diary. With all the terrible things happening in the world right now — the rounding up of migrants, separation of families, famine, the Rohingya genocide — I think about how I am a witness to the world’s horrors while I continue to enjoy all the small pleasures of being alive. “We’re surrounded by nothing but rustling wheat fields, interspersed with beautiful orchards,” he wrote. “Apples here, pears over there, and sometimes plum or cherry trees. One even more beautiful than the other. Then we reach Farmer Kerdijk van Dien, who immediately orders a box of 7.5 kilos of cherries. We sit ourselves down and start to eat. The box is empty in less than half an hour, but then we’re fed up with cherries. That’s the problem; if you have too much of something, it soon starts to pall....” “We run a race. Van Dien loses to me. Wim beats Bert. The Willinks are the champions. Then we do some boxing. And then the boys try to wrestle Van Dien down to the ground. Not a chance. He breaks into a sweat. It’s lovely getting tired this way. How wonderful life is. While in Amsterdam, the Jews are herded together like cattle. Carrying their bundles on their backs. Their blankets. They packed their things days in advance. Still, how hard their departure must have been. Parting from their familiar living rooms, their friends and acquaintances. While we are eating cherries, one basket after another. Lazing around. How lovely this place is.”

Nina Siegal is a regular contributor to The New York Times, writing about art and culture in Europe. Siegal received an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from Cornell University, as well as many grants and fellowships. She has published three novels and many articles in publications such as Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Artsy, and Artnet. In 2006, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to research her second novel, The Anatomy Lesson (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), in Amsterdam, and stayed.


Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham

The Riders Come Out at Night: The Failure to End Police Brutality and Corruption in Oakland Forthcoming from Atria Books / Simon & Schuster History

Judges’ citation:

The project:

As thrilling as the best noir fiction, The Riders Come Out at Night lays bare the horrors of police brutality with careful and unflinching courage. It stands to inform one of America’s most urgent debates, providing insight into the culture of a police department in freefall. The project is marked by the authors’ eye for detail, ear for a galvanizing story, and instinct for the heart of a question. Their thirteen years of tireless reporting will culminate in an essential book.

The Riders Come Out at Night profiles the Oakland Police Department, the law enforcement agency under the longestrunning federal reform program in the United States. The authors, prize-winning independent journalists, have followed the story for 13 years. Through an examination of the department’s past and present, the book examines the evolution of contemporary policing in America and delves into whether the profession, in its current shape, can be reformed.

The casual violence that so unsettled new officer Keith Batt was no exception — it was how some of the officers known as “the Riders” carried themselves every day. They felt at liberty to use violence to clean up Oakland’s streets for Mayor Jerry Brown’s shiny new vision of the city. Although none of them were assigned to the downtown district targeted for “renewal” – with new condos and apartments and chain stores like The Gap — these cops would often drive out of their district to essentially kidnap homeless residents off the streets of the city center, work them over, and dump them on a corner far from the towers and construction sites of downtown Oakland. They would jokingly refer to these extracurricular attacks as the “Beat and Release” program.


They relished any chance to satirize their own department’s technical language and subvert the notion of professional standards. One spoke often of using a “knee drop distractor strike” on suspects. Another told Batt that “academy bullshit” didn’t work on the streets. The Riders had their own moves and crude language to describe them. One of the Riders, laughing about the violent treatment of a suspect, told Batt, “If you had been there, it would have shocked your conscience.” Batt’s conscience was already beyond shocked. During his few weeks on the job he confided in several senior officers with the training division. He told them he’d taken part in some things that made him uncomfortable. But he wasn’t specific. They pressed for more, but Batt held back, realizing how dire the situation had become, and what repercussions could result if he told the truth — physical harm to him, either directly at the hands of his brutal colleagues or indirectly if they refused to back him up during a confrontation on the street, and massive reputational damage to the Oakland Police Department. But as Batt reflected on the nights he’d spent with members of the Riders, a conviction to take action grew within him. He realized that if he had been specific with his superiors, he would have confessed that he witnessed a Rodney King-style beating of a Black man. He’d seen cops plant drugs on people. He’d been ordered to write false police reports and to lie. A dog was wantonly executed. He’d seen cops pay informants with cocaine. And he was being told that this was routine, that this was how officers did the job in West Oakland, and that he was observing OPD’s “cream of the crop” in action. If he had been specific, Batt realized he would have blown the whistle. He knew he had to confront the Riders.

Ali Winston is an independent reporter covering criminal justice, privacy, and surveillance. A former reporter for The New York Times, he has also been a fellow at Type Investigations and reported documentaries for BBC Panorama and PBS Frontline. His reporting on police corruption, right-wing extremism, and surveillance have earned several awards, including a George Polk Award for Local Reporting, an Alfred I. duPont Award, and a News & Documentary Emmy. Darwin BondGraham is News Editor at The Oaklandside. Previously, he was an investigative reporter at The Appeal, covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham’s work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica, and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.


Whiting Foundation Trustees and Officers Peter Pennoyer, President John N. Irwin III, Treasurer Amanda Foreman Kumar Mahadeva Jacob Collins Magdalena Zavalía Miguens, Secretary Trustees Emeriti Antonia M. Grumbach Robert M. Pennoyer Kate Douglas Torrey

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