The Washington Monthly proudly announces the winners of the 2023 Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing—the only journalism prize dedicated to highlighting and encouraging exemplary reviews of serious, public affairs-focused books. The award honors the memory of Kukula Kapoor Glastris, the magazine’s longtime and beloved books editor.
In our smaller publications category, the winner is Katha Pollitt in Dissent magazine for her deeply informed and nuanced review of the essay collection The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century by Amia Srinivasan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
In our larger publications category, the judges took the unusual step of choosing two winners with very different—but equally compelling—styles of nonfiction book reviewing. Maureen Corrigan, book critic on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air,” was chosen for her regular short-form commentary, such as her deeply moving review of The Facemaker by Lindsey Fitzharris (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Zephyr Teachout was selected for her ambitious long-form review of four recent books exploring intertwined themes of employees’ rights, surveillance of workers, artificial intelligence, and COVID in the New York Review of Books.
A panel of six judges—veteran journalists, editors, authors, and publishers—selected this year’s winners from over 100 outstanding submissions published across various print, online, and broadcast outlets in 2022. Winners were honored for their clear and artful exposition, original and persuasive theses, and ability to enlighten readers with new and valuable information. Judges gave priority to works of public affairs, politics, history, and biography.
“There is a refreshing maturity to the tone of a writer who knows her subject matter through and through and can write about it in prose as easygoing as good conversation,” said judge Michael O’Donnell of Katha Pollitt’s review, adding that she writes “in pristine sentences with great assurance and purpose; as a result, it’s an absolute pleasure to read.” Fellow judges Clara Bingham and Suzannah Lessard agreed, noting that Pollitt, a prominent feminist author and poet, skillfully challenges some of the book’s arguments in a way that is both sharply critical and generous.
In the larger review category, judges praised the two winners for these and other virtues. “Maureen Corrigan conveys the strength of the books she reviews with verve and clarity,” said judge Peter Osnos. As importantly, she does so in barely 800 words—and for a vast radio audience unlikely to be familiar with these new works. “She provides a unique level of visibility for books today and has perfected the genre” of short-form book reviewing, added Osnos.
Conversely, Zephyr Teachout used a large canvas in a specialty journal to consider four books in her essay on “a fresh and provocative topic—employee surveillance and its dehumanizing effects,” noted judge Jason DeParle. She produced a fascinating review, and the judges agreed. “Her essay really stayed with me,” said DeParle.
“These three winners set a standard that all of us who work in this field of serious nonfiction book reviewing should challenge ourselves to meet,” said Washington Monthly Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris, Kukula’s husband of 31 years.
The winner in each size category receives a $1,000 cash prize. This year, because there are two winners in the larger publications category, each of them will receive $500.
Other finalists for the 2023 Kukula Award in the small publications category were:
- Zachary Fine in The Nation, for his review of Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Katherine Rundell
- Steven G. Kellman in The American Scholar, for his review of Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times (Princeton University Press) by Aaron Sachs
- Linda Kinstler in Jewish Currents, for her review of People Love Dead Jews (W.W. Norton & Company) by Dara Horn and Jews Don’t Count (Harper Collins) by David Baddiel
- Scott W. Stern in the Los Angeles Review of Books, for his review of Bad Gays: A Homosexual History (Verso) by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller
Among larger publications, the judges chose these finalists:
- Deborah Friedell in the London Review of Books, for her review of The Family Roe: An American Story (W.W. Norton & Company) by Joshua Prager
- Charles King in The Washington Post, for his review of Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History (W.W. Norton & Company) by Lea Ypi
- Carlos Lozada in The New York Times, for his commentary on several recent works exploring the Trump presidency, its relationship with the truth, and its effect on democracy, among other pieces
- Rebecca Onion in Slate, for her review of Profiles in Ignorance: How America’s Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber (Simon & Schuster) by Andy Borowitz
“Nonfiction book reviewing plays a key role in transmitting hard-won reporting, research, and ideas on major issues of the day to policy makers and citizens who can’t possibly read more than a fraction of the important books published each year,” said Glastris, the Monthly’s editor-in-chief. This year’s winning pieces illuminate gender and identity politics, the fraught history of abortion rights in America, and the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on questions of truth and lies, among other timely topics. Several of this year’s finalists also explored literary subjects and personal memoirs—in reviews of biographies of Herman Melville and John Donne, for instance. No matter the subject, “the aim of the Kukula Award is to highlight the work of the talented individuals who practice this undervalued craft—work Kukula devoted herself to publishing,” Glastris added.
ABOUT OUR 2023 JUDGES
Judging the smaller category:
Clara Bingham is a freelance journalist, former Newsweek White House correspondent, and author of, among other books, Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost its Mind and Found its Soul. She is currently at work on a book about the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Suzannah Lessard is one of the original writers at the Washington Monthly and the author of The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family and The Absent Hand: Reimagining our American Landscape. She is engaged in Consensus, an initiative to support innovative reportorial nonfiction.
Michael O’Donnell is the author of the forthcoming novel Above the Fire and a longtime National Book Critics Circle member. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Economist. He lives in the Chicago area, where he practices law. From 2009 to 2017, he wrote regular review-essays for Kukula Glastris at the Washington Monthly.
Judging entries in our larger category:
Jason DeParle, a reporter for The New York Times, has written extensively about poverty and immigration. His book, American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare, was a New York Times Notable Book and won the Helen Bernstein Award. His 2019 book, A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, was called “one of the best books on immigration written in a generation.” He was an Emerson Fellow at New America, a recipient of the George Polk Award, and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Peter Osnos is a veteran journalist and founder of PublicAffairs Books, where he served as Publisher and CEO until 2005. At PublicAffairs, the guiding mission was—and remains—to publish “good books about things that matter.” Osnos is the author of Would You Believe…The Helsinki Accords Changed the World?, and currently writes his own Substack, Peter Osnos Platform.
Amy Waldman, the author and journalist, was co-chief of the South Asia bureau for The New York Times. Before that, she covered Harlem, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the aftermath of 9/11 for the newspaper. The author of two award-winning novels, The Submission (2011) and A Door in the Earth (2019), Waldman was a national correspondent for The Atlantic and is a contributing editor at the Washington Monthly.
The Washington Monthly thanks these esteemed judges for their generous time and commitment to promoting the best in nonfiction book reviewing.
About Kukula Kapoor Glastris
The beloved and brilliant books editor of the Washington Monthly, Kukula (“Kuku” to her legions of friends and fans) made the book review section the home of some of the magazine’s best thinking and writing. A keen editor and diplomatic manager of writers, she served as den mother and provisioner of delicious late-night home-cooked meals to a generation of young Washington Monthly journalists. “I’ve never met anyone whose combination of personal goodness, plus intellectual and professional abilities, exceeded Kukula’s,” the journalist James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic.
To learn more about Kukula’s life, please read Kuku: A Love Story.