Today, the Whiting Foundation announced the 2022 recipients of the $40,000 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, which seeks to “foster original, ambitious projects that bring writing to the highest possible standard.” Previous grantees include Rachel Aviv, Sarah M. Broom, and Chloé Cooper Jones.
“From the underbelly of opioid addiction treatment to state-sanctioned drug vigilantes in the Philippines, from tent cities in one of the richest cities in America to the murders of massage workers in Georgia, from the work of the great Romantic poets set against the 18th-century slave trade to the places at the border where words fail us, these grantees have the courage and freshness of vision to address consequential stories hiding in plain sight,” said Courtney Hodell, director of literary programs, in a press release. “It’s our hope that the Foundation’s support will help these gifted writers delve into the most necessary places, whether that’s in the archives, on the street, or within our understanding.”
Here are this year’s grantees, along with brief descriptions of their works in progress and commentary from the Whiting Foundation judges.
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, The Hidden Globe
Forthcoming from Riverhead (US)
The Hidden Globe investigates the extraterritorial jurisdictions that lie above, between, and beneath nations. Combining reporting, criticism, economic history, and legal theory, it leads readers through the special economic zones that prop up world trade, the polar archipelagos that challenge the definition of national sovereignty, the ships criss-crossing the world flying flags of convenience, and the micro-states rewriting the laws of outer space. Profiling the consultants, lawyers, and thinkers who conceived and built this parallel world, the book argues that, far from challenging the nation-state system, liminal jurisdictions help sustain it.
The judges commented: “In this deeply researched and incisive work, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian pulls the curtain back on concepts most of us understand vaguely, if at all: the uncomfortable intersections of capital and national sovereignty, where money exerts more control than government. Abrahamian renders the complexities of global trade and wealth inequality in sharp, lucid, and humane prose, offering a rigorous analysis of the policies and practices that conjure an economic shadow world designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.”
Emily Dufton, Addiction, Inc.: Medication-Assisted Treatment and the War on Drugs
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press (US)
Medication-assisted treatment for heroin addiction, or MAT, was conceived in the 1970s as a liberal initiative to provide a medicalized “off-ramp” from the burgeoning war on drugs. Addiction, Inc. will show how, over the past fifty years, MAT has degraded from an idealized dream of socialized healthcare that treated addiction as a disease to a largely private, predatory system that emphasizes profit over rehabilitation — even as the opioid epidemic continues unchecked and more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2021 alone.
The judges commented: “In Addiction, Inc., Emily Dufton takes a deep dive into the history of opioid addiction and treatment, writing with clarity, rigor, and a contagious sense of urgency. Dufton offers a comprehensive view of the governmental failures and corporate greed that have led to the privatization of a treatment that has failed to live up to its promise of moving patients closer to recovery. Her book masterfully weaves together science, policy, and individual stories to illuminate a crucial facet of America’s opioid epidemic.”
Wes Enzinna, Impossible Paradise: Life, Death, and Home in a California Tent City
Cultural and Political Reportage
Forthcoming from Penguin Press (US)
Impossible Paradise investigates the causes and effects of American homelessness through the story of a single tent city in Oakland—one of the first to crop up in the wake of the 2008 recession, and one of approximately 140 that currently exist in the city. Despite the attention Bay Area homelessness has received in recent years, no one has written a detailed account of what life is like at the crisis’s epicenter: the encampments, where as many as 74 percent of the region’s unhoused population lives. The book focuses on the lives of five camp residents, exploring how they ended up homeless and narrating the challenges they face as they try to get back into housing. To research the book, the author spent more than a year visiting the encampment and at times living alongside the residents.
The judges commented: “This eye-opening book will stand shoulder to shoulder with Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. It is a deeply reported, emotionally suspenseful account of trying to make a home in the 21st-century economy, where the author’s experience of housing precarity is braided into an exploration of the lives of others – disproportionately Black, Brown, and LGBTQ – living in the tent cities of the Bay Area. Wes Enzinna’s evocative, intelligent storytelling shatters indifference, refusing to let his reader walk heedlessly past the increasingly urgent issue of homelessness in America. His reason for writing it cuts one to the core: ‘Without honest and accurate stories, there can be no solutions.’”
Ekow Eshun, The Strangers
Forthcoming from Hamish Hamilton (UK)
Structured around the stories of several remarkable Black men from the 19th to the 21st century and across the global diaspora, The Strangers sets out a radical exploration of identity and experience. From Victorian actor Ira Aldridge to philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon to hip hop star Tupac Shakur, the subject of each chapter stands at a crossroads, the society around him in flux. Drawing on historical sources to imagine their interiority, Ekow Eshun examines the forces that have shaped, constrained, and transformed our understanding of Black masculinity — and considers how we can think beyond them. From toxic masculinity to male fragility, mental health to queerness and the performance of gender, The Strangers offers a powerfully intersectional investigation of what it has meant and could mean to be a Black man.
The judges commented: “Ekow Eshun has charged himself with answering Toni Morrison’s observation that Black people are often ‘spoken of and written about as objects of history, not subjects within it,’ and his project has the power to take readers to a new understanding. Eshun links his fine-grained explorations of these fascinating but too-little-known figures and their social worlds to his own, and to ours. He has the quick, light sentences of a journalist combined with the imaginative reach of a novelist; this is a rich and beguiling way of writing biography and memoir. The book will offer astonishing discoveries.”
Patricia Evangelista, Some People Need Killing
Forthcoming from Random House (US)
Some People Need Killing is a cautionary tale of a modern democracy under the leadership of a populist autocrat. The title comes from one vigilante’s answer to the question of why he murdered suspected drug dealers and addicts. This book, told through the stories of killers and survivors, combines literary journalism and investigative reportage into a first-person account that documents President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent campaign against illegal drugs. It is a book about memory, complicity, and language, at a time when a country has decided that some lives are less grievable than others.
The judges commented: “There are people who seem born to tell the story of their country—its history and also its present moment. A third-generation journalist, Patricia Evangelista writes with brio and poetic sensitivity on the hope and despair of the Philippines, from its colonial past to its troubled present. Evangelista’s greatest strength is her voice: its sharp, ironic playfulness, its ferocious bravery, its compassion. In recording her subjects’ experiences living through horror, she bears witness to the lives of people that society treats as disposable.”
Brooke Jarvis, Invisible Apocalypse
Forthcoming from Crown (US)
The disappearance of insects has captured the world’s attention and set off a search among scientists to discover what’s happening, why, and what it all means for the future of life on Earth. This book takes us on a narrative journey inside the “insect apocalypse,” where readers will gain a new understanding of the losses that define our era.
The judges commented: “Brooke Jarvis is writing a Silent Spring for the insect world, and the impact of their plummeting population for life on earth is an urgent question for us all. Working in the tradition of the great E.O. Wilson as well as Elizabeth Kolbert and David Wallace-Wells, Jarvis takes us into the field to meet the obsessive and dedicated people doing boots-on-the-ground fieldwork. Jarvis is supremely good at making complex science easy to grasp, writing with style and surprising poetry; even the footnotes are compelling. This book should be required reading for policy makers, activists, NGOs, and corporate leaders, but will grip anyone who feels curiosity and concern about the natural world and our effect on it.”
May Jeong, The Life: Sex, Work, and Love in America
Forthcoming from Atria (US)
The Life: Sex, Work, and Love in America examines the forces shaping sex work and the lives of its workers, and how these forces interact with race, gender, and class. Jeong explores the limitations of our justice system when it deals with sex work and sex trafficking, often criminalizing those who are victims as much as they are breakers of unjust laws. Investigating the various paths taken to sex work, Jeong shows how those in “the life” are often trapped in a cycle that punishes them for the crime of poverty or other diversions from social norms. Based on deeply reported life stories, The Life probes the injustices, indignities, and redemptions these workers experience and lays bare the intersections of immigration, sexuality, power, and labor.
The judges commented: “May Jeong’s examination of the everyday lives of sex workers, including the victims of the Gem Spa murders, exudes compassion but rests on immersive reporting and incisive analysis. Her narrative approach is both delicate and kaleidoscopic, combining her interrogation of the societal and legislative underpinnings of sex trafficking with individual stories that reveal the human cost of criminalizing its victims. Jeong’s book is poised to draw much-needed attention to an overlooked civil rights issue and has the potential to become a classic of investigative reporting.”
Mathelinda Nabugodi, The Trembling Hand: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive
Forthcoming from Hamish Hamilton (UK) and Knopf (US)
Romanticism is best known as a movement celebrating political and imaginative liberty – the human mind freeing itself from the shackles of tradition. But Romanticism also coincided with the apex of the transatlantic slave trade. This book recovers some of the links between the poetry of freedom and the practices of slavery in the Romantic period. It presents an at once radical and intimate group portrait of the major Romantic poets that recasts their lives and works in the light of the Black Atlantic while at the same time describing the author’s own journey through this space with passion, curiosity, disquiet.
The judges commented: “Mathelinda Nabugodi dazzles with her originality of approach in this exhilarating tour de force, opening new ways of seeing and reading. A scholar of the highest caliber, she uses archival treasures – a teacup, a baby’s rattle, a necklace made of human hair – to reframe the dusty portraits of the Romantic poets in relation to what has been termed the ‘racial capitalism’ of chattel slavery, the engine of their 18th-century Atlantic world. Her own story provides sparkling grace notes as she delves into the influence of the slave trade on a literary tradition associated with personal and political freedom, and among this project’s most moving moments is Nabugodi’s reckoning with the limits and possibilities of writing herself into this lineage.”
Alejandra Oliva, Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration
Forthcoming from Astra House Books (US)
Rivermouth is an urgent reckoning and reexamination of the humanitarian crisis we call the American immigration system, told through the lens of the author’s work as a translator for asylum seekers. Each of the book’s three parts orbits around a space that becomes a unifying metaphor: the river as the waterway that separates the United States and Mexico, as well as the river of meaning that translators must navigate; the table where Oliva helps asylum seekers fill out applications, and scrutinizes how utopian aid so often falls short of helping those who need it most; and the wall as the behemoth imposition that runs along America’s southernmost border, as well as the confines of the migrant detention centers where our carceral and immigration systems intersect.
The judges commented: “Subtle, personal, and deeply informative, this is one of those books that catapult you to a place you have never been. Translation is the author’s vocation as well as a metaphor for the in-between spaces that her personal and professional identities compel her to traverse. Alejandra Oliva stands at a literal border and contemplates the metaphorical borderlines language creates, in terms of both the immigrant crisis and her own identity as a bilingual Mexican-American. Driven by a fierce sense of social justice, she is also an exquisitely controlled journalist. Her candid, intimate voice is irresistible.”