Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing

Kukula Glastris Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing

The Washington Monthly is proud to announce the inaugural Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing. The award, new in 2020, honors the memory of Kukula Kapoor Glastris, the longtime and beloved books editor at the Washington Monthly magazine. It celebrates the kind of serious, public-affairs-focused book reviews that Kukula devoted herself to commissioning and editing—and the talented individuals who practice this undervalued craft.

Nonfiction book reviewing is a vital aspect of journalism, one that plays a key role in transmitting hard-won reporting, research, and ideas to policymakers, influencers, and citizens who can’t possibly read more than a fraction of the important books being published each year. It also contributes to a healthy intellectual life.

In 2020, we honored two reviewers and their publications for exceptional book reviewing. We welcome and will give priority to reviews on works of politics, public affairs, history, and biography—the themes Kukula was most passionate about.  The winners each received a $1,000 honorarium.

Among larger publications (with 12 or more editorial staff), the winner is:

  • Casey Cep, The New Yorker, for her review of “Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter” by Kerri K. Greenidge.

Among smaller publications (with fewer than 12 editorial staff), the prize goes to:

  • Boris Dralyuk, the Los Angeles Review of Books, for his review of “Stalin’s Scribe: Literature, Ambition, and Survival: The Life of Mikhail Sholokhov” by Brian J. Boeck.

A panel of six judges—veteran journalists and authors—praised Cep’s review as “a captivating, judicious, and finely crafted narrative summation of a biography that deserves a far wider readership than it received about a largely forgotten turn-of-the-2oth century black newspaper publisher, William Monroe Trotter. His unwavering radical vision of black equality made Trotter an outcast in his time, but cast a beacon by which modern civil rights and Black Lives Matter activists have guided themselves.”

About Dralyuk’s winning entry, they said, “With clarity, economy, and force, Boris Dralyuk’s review of a new biography of Stalinist-era writer Mikhail Sholokhov, author of the anti-Bolshevik novel ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’, tells a surprisingly contemporary tale of an honest intellectual driven to drink and degradation by his close association with tyrannical power. His is a thoughtful, cogent review of a misunderstood literary figure.”

“An enthusiastic congratulations to Boris, Casey, and our inaugural finalists,” said Washington Monthly editor in chief Paul Glastris, Kukula’s husband of 31 years, “and our gratitude to the many other talented writers who submitted exemplary book reviews for consideration.” Nonfiction book reviewing plays a key role in transmitting hard-won reporting, research, and ideas on major issues of the day, like racial injustice and the rise of illiberalism, to policymakers and citizens who can’t possibly read more than a fraction of the important books being published each year. The aim of the new Kukula Award is to highlight the work of the individuals who practice this undervalued craft—work Kukula devoted herself to editing and publishing.

The panel selected the winners and eight other finalists from more than 100 outstanding book review submissions published across a wide range of print and online media in 2019.  Winners were honored for their clear and artful exposition; original and persuasive thesis; and ability to enlighten readers with new and valuable information. Judges gave priority to works of politics, public affairs, history, and biography. Cep and Dralyuk each will receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Other finalists for the 2020 Kukula Award in the large publications category were Sophie Pinkham in The New York Review of Books, for her review of a trio of books on the lessons of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by Kate Brown, Adam Higginbotham, and Serhii Plokhy; Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, for his review of “How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century” by Frank Dikötter; Laura Miller in Slate, for her review of “You Had to Be There: Rape Jokes” by Vanessa Place; and Carlos Lozada in The Washington Post, for his review of “The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free” by Rich Lowry. In the smaller category, finalists were Morten Høi Jensen in Literary Hub, for his review of “On the End of the World” by Joseph Roth; Jordan Michael Smith in Longreads, for his review of “Seeking the Fabled City” by Allan Levine and “A Specter Haunting Europe” by Paul Hanebrink; Paul W. Gleason in the Los Angeles Review of Books, for his review of “The Diversity Delusion” by Heather Mac Donald; and John Siman in Naked Capitalism, for his review of “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud” by Tom Mueller.

About our Judges

Debra Dickerson, essayist,Washington Monthly editorial advisory board member, and author most recently of The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folk to Their Rightful Owners.

Gregg Easterbrook, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, and author of Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear and 11 other books.

Haley Sweetland Edwards, a senior editor at Time magazine, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, and author of Shadow Courts: The Tribunals That Rule Global Trade.

Paul Glastris, editor in chief at the Washington Monthly, co-author of The Other College Guide: A Roadmap to the Right School for You.

Phillip Longman, policy director at the Open Markets Program, senior editor at the Washington Monthly, and author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It and numerous other books.

Stephanie Mencimer, senior reporter at Mother Jones, contributing editor at the Washington Monthly, and author of Blocking the Courthouse Door.

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,” journalist James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic.

Born in Tibet to an Indian diplomat who helped the Dalai Lama escape and then took the same route himself—on horseback over the Himalayas—with his family, including his two-year-old daughter, Kuku spent her childhood in India, Senegal, Syria, Germany, and Switzerland, before moving to the United States to attend Indiana University. Over a wide-ranging career, Kuku was a TV talk-show producer in Chicago, a staffer at Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington, and a reporter in the Chicago bureau of U.S. News & World Report.

Married for 31 years to her life partner and best friend, Paul Glastris, editor in chief of the Washington Monthly, she viewed their children, Hope and Adam, as her greatest accomplishments.

Kukula died in August 2017 at the age of 59 of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. To honor her remarkable legacy, her family, friends, and colleagues contributed to a memorial fund that supports this new award. To learn more about Kukula’s life, please see Kuku: A Love Story or tributes from people who knew and loved her at LifePosts.com.