Current Writing Award Winners
Winner: Grief Work by Ashley Bethard in VIDA
This piece is a moving exploration of Ashley Bethard’s painful grieving process after the death of her sibling. This evocative and timely essay is filled with imagery that beautifully illustrates Bethard’s journey.
Winner: Policies Mandated by Multilateral Institutions Are Contributing to India’s COVID Catastrophe by Puja Changoiwala in Scientific American
Puja Changoiwala brings a topic of global importance to American readers. The judges were impressed by the detailed research and how the author navigated the labyrinth of NGO policies and then was able to explain it to readers. The author’s inclusion of other developing countries helps widen the reader’s understanding of how fiscal and economic policies adversely affected public health in these countries. The judges also appreciate how the writer broadened the scope of COVID-19 coverage in the U.S. to include an international perspective.
Honorable Mention: Foster children face a tough journey — but one simple, household item can make it better by Deborah Lynn Blumberg in the Houston Chronicle
Deborah Lynn Blumberg deftly incorporates thorough research and reporting into clear, seemingly effortless prose, offering readers compelling evidence and welcome hope that small actions, like providing foster children with a proper suitcase for transporting their belongings, can make a meaningful difference in their lives.
Honorable Mention: The Silent Epidemic of Premature Death in Black Men by Nina Harawa in Undark
Journalist and epidemiologist Nina Harawa shines light on the crisis of premature deaths among Black men in the U.S. Now made even worse due to COVID-19, life expectancy among non-Hispanic Black men fell by three years. That’s four times the decline for white men and women. The topic is heartbreaking and Harawa adroitly navigates the waters between science and storytelling to write an opinion piece that demands the reader pay attention and take action.
Honorable Mention: Covid vaccine mandate for federal employees and office workers is what the doctor ordered by Michael T. Luongo in NBC News’s Think
This piece hits all the right notes with a timely news hook, meaningful historical context, and—especially—specific anecdotes that build a convincing case for the author’s pro-vaccine mandate argument. The way Michael T. Luongo weaves together his professional experience as a contact tracer and his own personal losses to COVID-19 makes this entry a standout in the op-ed category.
Winner: These Forgotten Essays Reveal the Secrets and Dreams of Jewish Teens as Hitler Drew Near by Kristina Gaddy in Narratively
Kristina Gaddy’s essay is a riveting and moving account of how teens are teens throughout the decades and wars, with a sobering dose of history sprinkled throughout. It skillfully balances reporting with personal expression.
Winner: “Broken Pelvises, Collapsed Lungs, and Decades of Winning: Barrel Racing’s Martha Josey Has Seen It All,” by Laura Beil in Texas Monthly
We loved Laura Beil’s profile of champion barrel racer Martha Josey, who rose to the top of a highly competitive sport and overcame devastating injury and many other challenges to stay there for decades. Beil captures Josey’s personality, grit, and inimitable style in a beautifully written story that also shines light on the fascinating world of competitive barrel racing.”
Winner: Threads of Life by Ruth Terry in Crafts
This article is an intriguing exploration of a unique topic – the crossroads of craft, fine art, and the use of human and synthetic hair. Ruth Terry juxtaposed the art of ‘hair crafting’ to societal issues such as racism, sexism, and class in this well-written, thoroughly researched, and engaging piece.
Winner: Search A for HbA1C by Karen Blum in Clinical Laboratory News
Karen Blum’s clear statement about the confusion around the names of laboratory tests, explanation of the solutions process, and skillful use of expert sources make this a balanced, readable piece for professionals in the field—and for lay readers as well.
Honorable Mention: The Incredible Diversity of Viruses by Amber Dance in Nature
Amber Dance’s clear, concise writing and careful analysis of the subject matter made what could have been a fairly dry topic lively and comprehensible.
Winner: The Chef Preserving Gullah Culture Through Storytelling by Jessica Farthing in BBC’s World’s Table
This story has a great lede and is thoughtfully written. There is a lot of good research that provides historical context while connecting it to a contemporary story. Jessica Farthing is successful in not only sharing a compelling profile about a local changemaker but, as a travel piece, it makes readers want to follow in her footsteps and explore the destination.
Winner: The Dire Consequences of Pleading Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity in Colorado by Daliah Singer in 5280
In this deeply reported story, Daliah Singer balances scene-setting and narrative journalism, and leverages meticulous sourcing to examine the flip side of an issue that we don’t often think about or even see. Through the lens of local reporting, the story highlights a national issue.
Co-Winner: The Black Box Breakers: Blowing the Lid off of Biological Essentialism in Medicine by Kavin Senapathy in Grow
The judges were impressed by the depth of reporting and the clear explanations of complicated health science information, which were deftly handled. Kavin Senapathy opened with a very strong anecdotal lede and offered an eye-opening take on the reasons behind racism as a public health crisis. It broke down many of the misconceptions about why health disparities exist, and how bias creeps into medical education and research. This includes examples such as sickle cell disease and how it’s not a genetic difference based on race, but rather based on geography and adaptation. The writer came back around to the opening anecdote at the end to wrap the whole piece up neatly.
Co-Winner: A Geneticist’s Biggest Challenge: Curing His Own Son by Michaela Haas in Al Jazeera
This piece was a stand-out for writing and the degree of reporting that went into it, as well as being a compelling story tied to big societal issues. We were knocked out by the emotional power of the story that let us see directly into the family’s everyday life in such a raw way. The story really connects readers with the people and made the science reporting inviting and accessible.
How-To (formerly Service)
Winner: Yes, You Can Actually Slow Down Aging, According to New Science by Beth Howard in Prevention
Judges were drawn to the way it does justice to an important topic; advice on how to live a longer, healthier life. It provides solid information in an accessible, readable form that avoids jargon. It includes a range of research in enough depth to interest the casual reader without being overwhelming. The sourcing is credible and Beth Howard’s writing is clear and straightforward. The story kept our interest from beginning to end.
Food & Drink
Winner: Saved by the Bell by Heather Arndt Anderson in Oregon Humanities
Beginning with Heather Arndt Anderson’s grabby, honest lede, the piece is winningly unpretentious: Real, surprising, funny. And we loved the bit where she casts judgement on her grade-school teacher for using ketchup as a salad dressing.
Excellence in Reporting
Winner: Pencils Down: The Year Pre-College Tests Went Away by Amber Dance in Knowable Magazine
This article dives into the sudden disappearance of required SAT and ACT tests for undergraduate applicants at many colleges due to COVID-19, the impact of the change on students and schools, and the prospects for these tests in the future. Amber Dance’s intensive
reporting and historical context illuminate the real and perceived benefits and risks of these tests; the article’s charts and tables offer critical supporting data to provide a rich, useful experience for readers on a topic of vital importance.
Winner: In the Debate Over ‘SIDS Monitors,’ Evidence Is Thin All Around by Michael Schulson in Undark
Supporters hope modern baby monitors might prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Critics are doubtful. Michael Schulson explores who’s right. This long article is well-written and reported, interesting, scientifically based, and covers an important health topic.
Honorable Mention: Slum Dwellers in India Get Unique Digital Addresses by Shoma Abhyankar in MIT Technology Review
This was an extremely interesting topic the judges hadn’t heard of before—“plus codes” that mark locations in Indian slums, which means residents can get mail and deliveries and open bank accounts. Shoma Abhyankar’s story was clearly written and well-organized, and documented an important topic that is changing lives for the better.
Winner: Mixed Media: Once Considered Revolutionary, Women’s Media is on the Decline. How Will the Industry Reinvent Itself? by Ruth Terry in Trix Magazine
Ruth Terry did an impeccable job of highlighting the rollercoaster of women’s media. The words were passionate, succinct, and supported with insightful quotes and research. We walked away feeling empowered for the next stage of women’s media.
The Arlenes: Articles That Make a Difference
Winner: After 50 Years of Sexual Assault Shame, I’m Finally Reclaiming My Voice by Court Stroud in Newsweek
We were moved by Court Stroud’s story and also that it affected at least one person enough to connect with him. We were also impressed that a mainstream publication gave voice to someone from a marginalized population with a sensitive story to tell. We hope that this kind of visibility continues.
Winner: Buried Asian Trauma and Treasure by Dulce Zamora
Dulce Zamora’s piece was well written and gives in-depth, varied descriptions of the prejudice she has experienced. Also, we found her sidebar with the history of discrimination helpful and unexpected. We also appreciated her timely take on an important issue that deserves so much awareness, made more powerful by her personal experience.
Honorable Mention: India Desperate for Vaccines Even as Many Americans Rebuff Them by Tara Haelle
Tara Haelle offered competent science reporting and we appreciated the global perspective. This well-researched, important piece offered a compelling comparison and the photos spoke volumes.
Winner: The Egg Industry Grapples with a Grim Practice: Chick Culling by Jonathan Moens in Undark
This story exposes a little-known problem and is exactly the type of journalism that can help create change by shining a light where the industry doesn’t want it shone. The judges loved how Jonathan Moens held industry sources accountable for the current status of the problem and how he sifted through the various imperfect-but-better potential solutions.
Honorable Mention: Humanity is Flushing Away One of Life’s Essential Elements by Julia Rosen in The Atlantic
This fascinating story was amazingly well-researched. Julia Rosen brought to light a problem most were unaware of, that phosphorus is both essential to human nutrition and agriculture and yet extremely difficult to produce. Rosen’s characters made a memorable contribution to her charmingly meandering tale.
Fitness & Sports
Winner: Hank Aaron Still Stands Alone by Derrick Z. Jackson for The American Prospect
We found Derrick Z. Jackson’s article to be an engaging and humanizing portrait that illustrated who Hank Aaron really was and addressed his character—particularly in contrast to other Hall of Fame candidates and the bottom feeders who sent him threats during his pursuit of the home run record. We also appreciated the details that came from the author, who had a lengthy relationship with Aaron. (Great photo, too!)
The Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism
Winner: Below Aging U.S. Dams, A Potential Toxic Calamity by James Dinneen and Alexander Kennedy in Undark
The essence of investigative reporting is uncovering previously unseen but important connections, and that is exactly what James Dinneen and Alexander Kennedy accomplish. They offer an absolutely original combination of two sets of data, and two dangers, that officials and experts had not previously connected but that together could spell major disasters. Insight and analysis of the highest order.
Honorable Mention: Gathering Storm: The Industrial Infrastructure Catastrophe Looming Over America’s Gulf Coast by Tristan Baurick in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Tristan Baurick’s lede is riveting and the story puts into words a matter of critical importance: the destruction that the human race is doing to this planet. Extremely well reported, with striking graphics, imagery and interviews. Bravo.
Winner: The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves by J.B. MacKinnon
An imaginatively conceived, vividly written and deeply researched book on a vital topic. J. B. MacKinnon translates complex material into a clear and harrowing portrait of the underside of our national pastime—shopping.
Honorable Mention: The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias by Jessica Nordell
A thoughtful, wide-ranging exploration of the profound impact of multiple types of biases in our society. The book seamlessly integrates research with compelling, real-life situations. Utilizing a strong voice, Jessica Nordell offers concrete ways to address bias in oneself as well as in the larger society.
Honorable Mention: The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal—and How to Set Them Right by Adam Harris
With exceptionally strong and engaging writing, Adam Harris explodes the myth of equal opportunity in our college system. Deeply reported and researched, the book traces the historic trajectory of discrimination along with its often profound impact on individuals.
Winner: More Than Meets the Eye: Exploring Nature and Loss on the Coast of Maine by Margie Patlak
Margie Patlak delivered a consistently articulate and well-written book. The writing was strong and professional in clear and often poetic language. Words were well chosen and moving, placing the reader in the middle of the journey. Kudos to the author for such excellence.
Honorable Mention: Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi
This emotional and imaginative book was beautifully written, often lyrical. Akwaeke Emezi’s evocative language reinforced the memoir’s drama and personal angst.
Winner: The Approaching Storm: Roosevelt, Wilson, Addams, and Their Clash Over America’s Future by Neil Lanctot
Neil Lanctot vividly captures the struggles of the World War I era in the United States by tracking these three “influencers” with deeply complicated and divergent personalities. We’re especially impressed by Lanctot’s emphasis on colorful and plentiful quotes from people of the time, which allows history to speak for itself.
Winner: Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change by Tanja Hester
Tanja Hester offers a comprehensive resource that lays out all of the answers to questions people have about how to be an ethically responsible consumer. This book empowers the average person to think before they spend and offers insight into global and environmental issues. Unlike many other writings on the topic, this book addresses the environmental impact of our everyday decisions in a non-judgmental way and offers realistic ways for the average person to contribute to positive change and make a difference.
Winner: Conservation Canines: How Dogs Work for the Environment by Isabelle Groc
The book not only showcases the human-canine bond but also details the invaluable way in which dogs play a key and active role in conservation efforts. Through wonderful storytelling and beautiful photography, Isabelle Groc chronicles how the dogs’ sense of smell helps scientists, conservationists, ranchers and farmers solve some of our most urgent environmental problems.
Honorable Mention: Orca Rescue! The True Story of an Orphaned Orca Named Springer by Donna Sandstrom
This is a touching story about the journey to save an orca who was separated from her pod. Judges felt compelled by the through-story that made them care about Springer and the author, who became part of a community intent on saving the baby whale. Full of information about orcas and touching in its focus on Springer.
Winner: New Consumer Model May End Paper Towels for Good—and Help Restaurants by Vanessa McGrady for Dell Technologies’ Perspectives
The author provides an intriguing glimpse behind the scenes of the restaurant business. Using the specific example of linens, Vanessa McGrady explores a broader idea: the power to avoid excess by rethinking established systems for every aspect of our daily lives. Clearly written for a targeted audience, the tone and storytelling can capture any reader’s attention.
Honorable Mention: Checklist: How to Create Content About the COVID-19 Vaccine by Jessica Fleming for aha media
This piece stands out with crisp language, straightforward advice, and an engaging tone. Jessica Fleming provides actionable tips with admirable brevity, packing valuable information into a convenient guide.
Winner: How to Pack an Adventure ‘Go-Bag’ by Laura Killingbeck for the Adventure Cycling Association
We chose this article because of the unusual subject matter and the personal stories the author told while informing readers of the importance of a ‘go-bag.’ Laura Killingbeck told a story with a clear beginning and end, wrapping everything up nicely. She used engaging, quality writing to capture readers’ attention and teach them something new.
Winner: Feeling the Heat: The Fate of Nature Beyond 1.5°C of Global Warming by Isabelle Groc for WWF-UK
This piece was chosen for both the quality of Isabelle Groc’s words as well as the in-depth reporting involved. “Feeling the Heat” took one central vision of climate change and looked at it from all angles, from wildlife to humans to the environment. It told an emotional story that appeals to a wider audience.
ASJA relishes in the opportunity to recognize exceptional freelance writing and writers. Our annual awards program highlights stellar nonfiction articles, essays, books, and content marketing writing in a variety of categories.