In an announcement made on Monday from Columbia University in New York City, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment and Black America by James Forman Jr. was named the winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. This book examines the historical roots of contemporary criminal justice in the United States in an effort to understand why the war on crime of the 1970s was supported by many black leaders. Fellow 2018 nominees include Notes on a Foreign Country by Suzy Hansen and The Evolution of Beauty by Richard O. Prum.
A former D.C. public defender, Forman shares the stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims to create a portrait of crime and punishment in an America where racism is still very much the norm. The book explores how prominent black officials in the '70s "feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness — and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures." These measures bear direct effect on our devastatingly flawed judicial system today, and Locking Up Our Own is an important addition to the national conversation about race, law enforcement, and justice.
Forman is currently a law professor at Yale University. He has worked as a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the United States Supreme Court. In 1997, he co-founded the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, an alternative school for school dropouts and youth who have previously been arrested.
Established in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize is one of the most prestigious awards given to American writing today. The nonfiction category seeks to honor a "distinguished and appropriately documented book of nonfiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category." In addition to various journalism categories, each year Pulitzer Prizes are also awarded to books in the categories of fiction, drama, history, biography, and poetry. Each winner receives a $15,000 cash award.
Recent past winners in the nonfiction category include Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, which won in 2017, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick, which won in 2016, and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, which won in 2015.
For a full list of the winners and finalists, visit the Pulitzer Prize official website.