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    Here are the 2023 recipients of the $40,000 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant.

    Literary Hub

    December 6, 2023, 8:00am

    Today, the Whiting Foundation announced the ten 2023 recipients of the $40,000 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, which seeks to “foster original, ambitious projects brought to the highest possible standard” by supporting authors with nonfiction books in progress.

    “This year’s grantees are doing venturous work, reporting from often hostile places on complex matters of deep import to us all,” said Courtney Hodell, director of literary programs, in a press release. “For some, the journey is an inward one. All these writers are animated by a drive for beauty as well as truth, and this combination is what makes books endure. Whiting is thrilled to support such risk-taking.”

    Here are the 2023 grantees, with a bit about their work (all book titles are provisional):

    Nicholas Boggs
    James Baldwin: A Love Story

    Literary Biography
    Forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US)

    Drawing on extensive archival material newly brought to light by the author, James Baldwin: A Love Story tells the overlapping stories of Baldwin’s most sustaining intimate and artistic relationships: with his mentor, Black American painter Beauford Delaney; his lover and muse, Swiss painter Lucien Happersberger; and his collaborators, famed Turkish actor Engin Cezzar and iconoclastic French artist Yoran Cazac. For the first time, this biography shows how Baldwin drew on complex structures within these relationships—geographical, cultural, political, aesthetic, and erotic—and alchemized them into art that spoke truth to power and had an indelible impact on the civil rights movement and Black and queer literary history.

    The judges commented: “There can never be enough written on James Baldwin, and this biography, with its brilliant original research, plot twists, and page-turning pace, may be the best yet. Dedicated and driven, Nicholas Boggs is clearly the expert on his subject. A spellbinding narrative that will magnify our understanding of one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century, whose contributions only continue to grow in influence.”

    Eiren Caffall
    The Mourner’s Bestiary

    Forthcoming from Row House Publishing (US)

    The Mourner’s Bestiary is a meditation on grief and survival told through the stories of animals in two collapsing marine ecosystems—the Gulf of Maine and the Long Island Sound—and the lives of a family facing a life-threatening illness on their shores. The Gulf of Maine is the world’s fastest-warming marine ecosystem, and the Long Island Sound has been the site of conservation battles that predict the fights ahead for the Gulf. Eiren Caffall carries a family legacy of two hundred years of genetic kidney disease, raising a child who may also. The Mourner’s Bestiary braids environmental research with a memoir of generational healing, and the work it takes to get there for the human and animal lives caught in tides of loss.

    The judges commented: “Beguiling, idiosyncratic: Eiren Caffall makes an original contribution to the growing genre of memoirs that explore illness and healing. The Mourner’s Bestiary draws a poetic parallel between the body’s experience of chronic disease and the marine ecosystems Caffall knows well—an unexpected juxtaposition that gives new dimension to climate hazards we face and opportunities to address them. Caffall writes with plangent intensity about our responsibility toward the planet, and her eye for the wonder and beauty of ocean life pierces the illusion of disconnected existence. Water becomes an element that draws us together.”

    Sarah Chihaya

    Literary Criticism/Memoir
    Forthcoming from Random House (US)

    Bibliophobia is a personal history of reading, writing, and depression, both a memoir told through literary criticism and a manifesto that aims to trouble the facile discourse of loving—and implicitly feeling loved by—literature that circulates through public imagination. Bibliophobia tangles with arguments for the importance of literature that frame reading fiction as a means of leading us away from brokenness, calling attention to the fact that the most difficult, challenging, and painful books we encounter often end up shaping our intellectual and emotional lives the most powerfully.

    The judges commented: “Soul-baring, witty, and slyly provocative, Bibliophilia unsettles our most widespread and unexamined beliefs about books and reading. Sarah Chihaya coaxes us to consider how literature can be both our salvation and our peril, and whether it’s possible—or desirable—to read without extracting meaning or reinforcing narrative expectations. Chihaya offers up an intimate and sharply observant account of how she learned to embrace the hazards and joys that come with reading, and of the dangers she’s faced in a life among books.”

    Alexander Clapp
    Waste Wars: A Journey Through the World of Globalized Trash

    Environmental Reportage
    Forthcoming from Little, Brown & Company (US)

    Much of what the world has thrown away for the past forty years—plastic water bottles, cell phones, rubber tires—has had a highly profitable and environmentally devastating second life, getting bartered, trafficked, and offloaded to the poorest places on Earth. Waste Wars is an exposé of this business: how it began, how it destroys the environment, and—most importantly—the international rivalries it has brewed and continues to brew between the “developed” and “developing” worlds.

    The judges commented: “A visceral, jaw-dropping inquiry into a vital climate vulnerability—our planet’s runaway garbage pandemic—that is easy to ignore but implicates us all. Alexander Clapp blends impressive on-the-ground reporting with strong narrative drive, a lively turn of phrase, and gripping characters. In this plunge into the often corrupt world of modern manufacture, consumption, and destruction, Clapp takes extraordinary personal risks to explore places on the planet where few wish to go, or want to acknowledge.”

    Kendra Taira Field
    The Stories We Tell

    Forthcoming from W.W. Norton (US)

    The Stories We Tell traces the history of African American genealogy and family storytelling from the Middle Passage to the present. It is about the painstaking efforts of generations of African Americans to access and share their familial pasts; how these efforts were shaped by the history of slavery, emancipation, segregation, and civil rights struggle; and how these efforts, in turn, shaped American history. It investigates and celebrates where millions of African descent went—aesthetically, creatively, and when others were not listening—to make meaning of their familial past.

    The judges commented: “A crucial rethinking of the meanings of genealogy, with all the makings of a tour de force. This is a major study of the Black past in America and how African Americans have approached their history and its lacunae, via fiction and silence as well as memory and historical record. Kendra Taira Field approaches rarely discussed material with scholarly thoroughness and a fluid, intimate style that is touched with gravitas. The Stories We Tell has the potential to quietly transform the cultural conversation around family history: who makes it, who it belongs to, and what purpose it can serve.”

    Molly O’Toole
    The Route: The Untold Story of the New Migrant Underground

    Investigative Reportage
    Forthcoming from Crown (US)

    The Route is an immersive narrative tracing a major new migrant underground. This deadly gauntlet draws refugees from around the world to begin a hazardous trek from Brazil to the US-Mexico border, carved out by the fixers, forgers, officials, and smugglers cashing in on a billion-dollar, globe-spanning black market and held together by the thread of the American dream.

    The judges commented: “The ambition and drive of this reporter takes one’s breath away. Molly O’Toole travels alongside refugees from countries such as Cameroon, Congo, Nepal, and Pakistan as they make their uncertain way toward security, and reports on the lucrative black market in human smuggling and the international attempts to police it. A powerful, gymnastic writing style makes room for nuanced context and analysis, and puts an intimate face on the global refugee crisis. Refreshing in its originality, bold in its scope, it stands to make a seismic contribution to the immigration debate.”

    Dom Phillips with collaborators
    How to Save the Amazon: Ask the People Who Know

    Environmental Reportage
    Forthcoming from Manilla Press, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK Ltd

    In June 2022, Dom Phillips was shot dead with environmentalist Bruno Pereira while on his final research trip for How to Save the Amazon, a deeply reported, character-driven travel book on the destruction faced by the world’s most important rainforest. Recognizing the significance of this project, leading writers covering the Amazon have come together to finish Phillips’s book. The group includes Jon Lee Anderson (The New Yorker), Eliane Brum (author and cofounder of Sumaúma), Andrew Fishman (The Intercept Brazil), Tom Phillips (Latin America correspondent for the Guardian), and Davi Kopenawa Yanomami (author of The Falling Sky), and is helmed by journalist Jonathan Watts. This collaborative project will honor Phillips’s vision and his memory, offer up potential solutions that incorporate indigenous voices and experience, and insist that journalists will not be silenced.

    The judges commented: “Dom Phillips’s reporting on ecological depredations in the Amazon, completed before his murder in the field, demonstrates impressive levels of access and a deep moral curiosity. It’s rare to encounter travel writing that truly shows the reader something they haven’t seen before; the sense of discovery—and, inevitably, peril—is palpable. It is galvanizing to see this cohort of investigative journalists come together to deliver on Phillips’s vision, and, crucially, to include first-hand indigenous perspectives and their potential solutions. This project speaks not only to the threatened territory of the Amazon but the vulnerable territory of freedom of speech.”

    Carrie Schuettpelz
    The Indian Card: A Journey Through America’s Native Identity Problem

    Forthcoming from Flatiron Books (US)

    The Indian Card is about what happens when rules around Native identity—many of which were created by a US government intent on wiping out Native people altogether— inhibit Native people from creating successful, sustainable communities. This issue is of urgent importance in Indian Country, and has broad implications for diversity in the US. The Indian Card tackles it head-on through personal narrative, interviews with Native people from around the country, historical interludes, and data deep-dives, addressing what animates the implicit question of who is or is not “Native enough.”

    The judges commented:A candid, unflinching look at the sometimes subtle, sometimes ruthless ways federal policies undermine Indigenous culture and society. Carrie Schuettpelz understands firsthand how official tribal membership rations not only access to benefits such as healthcare and housing stipends, but also an ineffable sense of belonging. Her thorough excavation of the painful history that gave rise to rigid enrollment policies is a courageous gift to our understanding of contemporary Native life. To her engagingly direct voice and assured scholarship she adds a mighty resource: a data set of enrollment criteria in the 347 federally recognized tribes in the contiguous United States. This is groundbreaking work driven by curiosity, rigor, and high personal stakes.”

    Sonia Shah
    Special: The Rise and Fall of a Beastly Idea

    Forthcoming from Bloomsbury (US)

    Western industrial society’s foundational idea that Homo sapiens is special—separated from all other species by unique cognitive, technological, and communicative capacities—faces a new reckoning. Even as our technology grapples with existential threats of our own making, scientists are discovering nonhuman capacities that match or exceed our own, from coral polyps that can hear their reefs to crows that understand recursive logic. Special traces how human exceptionalism shapes our world and how its collapse might transform science, medicine, history, and our ideas about ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our common future.

    The judges commented: “Sonia Shah reveals the invisible wall that humans have constructed between animals and ourselves, and begins the essential work of dismantling it. This author has researched well and long: delving into classic texts of philosophy, history, and the sciences, she reframes our understanding with elegance and originality, posing thought-provoking questions bolstered by scholarship. This is the first book on human exceptionalism with such scope and ambition, and the writing is superb. Timely and urgent, it calls for a sea change in how human society regards itself.”

    Reggie Ugwu
    Brilliance Is All We Have: Black Filmmakers and the Fight for the Soul of America

    Biography/Cultural Criticism
    Forthcoming from Bloomsbury (US)

    Brilliance Is All We Have is a narrative history of Black filmmakers and Black self-definition in American cinema. Through deep reportage and research, it weaves together intimate, character-driven accounts of the construction of Black-American identity and the American idea in film after emancipation, from Oscar Micheaux in the era the medium was born, through the journeys of groundbreaking 21st century filmmakers including Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, and Jordan Peele.

    The judges commented: “Reggie Ugwu’s Brilliance Is All We Have dramatizes the story of Black filmmaking and shows how it is also the story of race in America, with its progress and reversals. Ugwu makes an important historical intervention by connecting the early history of Black filmmaking to more recent developments, celebrating exceptional achievement, and mapping Black networks in the industry. Richly detailed narrative outstrips limitations of the profile form by contextualizing notable figures’ struggles and triumphs, all delivered in Ugwu’s snazzy prose. A long overdue book, both vital and necessary.”

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