Shane Bauer Wins 2019 Helen Bernstein Book Award For Excellence In Journalism

April 16, 2019  - Shane Bauer has won The New York Public Library’s 2019 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism for his groundbreaking work, American Prison, published by Penguin Press (Penguin Random House). The winner was announced last night at the 32nd annual Bernstein Awards ceremony, held at the Library's iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Shane Bauer is an award-winning investigative journalist at Mother Jones and the recipient of the National Magazine Award for Best Reporting, Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, Atlantic Media's Michael Kelly Award, the Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism, among others. Bauer is the co-author, along with Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, of a memoir, A Sliver of Light, which details his time spent as a prisoner in Iran.

In 2014, Bauer went to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. Though he only worked there four months, he’d seen enough to write an exposé that won a National Magazine Award and became Mother Jones’ most-read feature in the history of the magazine.  American Prison weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War

"It is an amazing honor to have this book recognized alongside such esteemed journalists,” said Shane Bauer. “Thanks to the Helen Bernstein Book Award for encouraging journalists to investigate the powerful, especially during trying times like these."

Bauer  was one of five finalists for the Bernstein Award selected by a nine-member Library Review Committee, which received and read over 100 nominations from publishers. The winner was chosen by a separate Bernstein Selection Committee, chaired by journalist and editor Jim Hoge. The other finalists were:

  • No Turning Back by Rania Abouzeid, published by W. W. Norton & Company

  • The Poisoned City by Anna Clark, published by Metropolitan Books (Macmillan)

  • Amity and Prosperity by Eliza Griswold, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan)

  • Dopesick by Beth Macy, published by Little, Brown and Company (Hachette)

Previous winners of the award, which comes with a $15,000 cash prize, include such acclaimed journalists as Martha Gessen, Katherine Boo, Dan Fagin, David Finkel, Anand Giridharadas, George Packer, and Ellen Schultz.

The Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism was established in 1987 through a gift from Joseph Frank Bernstein, in honor of journalist Helen Bernstein. The gift was in two parts and also endows the position of the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals & Journals. This position curates The New York Public Library’s internationally-renowned Periodicals Division, housing one of the largest collections of past and present newspapers, magazines, and journals from around the world. The position is currently held by Librarian Shannon Keller.


Sara Beth Joren,

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