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For shining a spotlight on poverty and the heartrending inequalities of our era, Katherine Boo has a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and a MacArthur genius grant. In October she will receive Colby College’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism, President David A. Greene announced in August.
On Monday, Oct. 5., Boo will receive an honorary doctoral degree along with the Lovejoy award and will deliver the Lovejoy Convocation address in Colby’s Lorimer Chapel at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony, which is open to the public, and the award honor America’s first martyr to freedom of the press, Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Colby’s valedictorian in 1826, Lovejoy became a crusading abolitionist editor and was murdered in 1837 for his anti-slavery editorials.
Greene, a member of the committee that selected Boo for the award, said the quality of her research, the intensity of her prose, and the critically important theme of inequality that informs much of her work all contributed to her selection. ”Katherine Boo analyzes the complex interplay of social, political, and economic inequalities by exploring the everyday experiences of individuals—the gut-wrenching tragedies as well as the moments of personal triumph. Her writing combines elements of journalism and ethnography and is crafted through her discerning intelligence and her unusual ability to hear universal stories in the peculiarities of daily interactions. Her work is storytelling at its very best and most illuminating,” Greene said.
“Katherine Boo is among journalism’s great practitioners of narrative nonfiction, a writer who has devoted her career to illuminating the lives of the disadvantaged, the powerless, the people left behind. … She gives them a voice.”
Rebecca Corbett ’74 New York Times
Boo, now a staff writer for the New Yorker, has spent more than two decades in poor communities reporting on how societies distribute opportunity and how individuals climb out of poverty. As a reporter for the Washington Post she won the 2000 Pulitzer Award for Public Service for disclosing “wretched neglect and abuse in the city’s group homes for the mentally retarded, which forced officials to acknowledge the conditions and begin reforms,” according to the Pulitzer committee. Her first book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, won a National Book Award and was named one of the 10 best books of 2012 by the New York Times.
David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and chair of the Lovejoy selection committee, characterized the committee’s annual challenge as one of matching the work of a journalist with the enduring legacy of Lovejoy. “In choosing Ms. Boo,” he said, “we have a perfect match—a journalist of purpose and courage who has taken on the vital issues of her time much the way Lovejoy took on the issues of his.”
“Katherine Boo is among journalism’s great practitioners of narrative nonfiction, a writer who has devoted her career to illuminating the lives of the disadvantaged, the powerless, the people left behind,” said Rebecca Corbett ’74, assistant managing editor of the New York Times and a member of the selection committee. “Her deep reporting, lyrical writing, and passion for social justice have produced unforgettable, heartbreaking stories about the aspirations, daily struggles, and humanity of ordinary people in terrible circumstances, without advocates or support. She gives them a voice.”
The Lovejoy Award, given annually since 1952, recognizes courage and themes of social justice in journalism. It honors the memory of Lovejoy, who was killed in Alton, Ill., for condemning slavery and for defending his right to publish. John Quincy Adams called him America’s first martyr to freedom of the press.
In addition to Greene, Shribman, and Corbett, the committee that chose Boo includes Mike Pride, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes and editor emeritus of the Concord Monitor; Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief of ProPublica; Christine S. Chinlund, managing editor for news at the Boston Globe; Marcela Gaviria, producer at PBS FRONTLINE; and Martin Kaiser, retired editor and senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Daniel M. Shea, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, also is on the committee.
Also on Oct. 5, a panel discussion titled “Division and Despair: Reporting on Economic Inequality” will feature national experts and top journalists at 4 p.m. in Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond Building.