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Katherine Boo, an award-winning author and New Yorker writer, will receive Colby College’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, in Colby’s Lorimer Chapel. Boo will deliver the 2015 Lovejoy Convocation address at the ceremony, which is open to the public. She will receive an honorary doctoral degree along with the award. Lovejoy, Colby’s valedictorian in 1826, became a crusading abolitionist editor and was murdered in 1837 for his anti-slavery editorials. He was called America’s first martyr to freedom of the press by John Quincy Adams.
The award, presented annually by Colby since 1952, will honor Boo for intrepid reporting that probes poverty and inequality in the United States and abroad. She has spent more than two decades immersing herself in poor communities and reporting on how societies distribute opportunity and how individuals climb out of poverty.
Also on Oct. 5, a panel discussion titled “Division and Despair: Reporting on Economic Inequality” will feature top journalists from around the nation at 4 p.m. in Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond Building. The discussion, sponsored by the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, responds to a prominent theme in Boo’s work.
Boo won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2000 for exposing neglect and abuse in Washington, D.C., group homes for the mentally retarded. Her series for the Washington Post “forced officials to acknowledge the conditions and begin reforms,” according to the Pulitzer jury. She won a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing for her intimate portrait in the New Yorker showing the stark realities of racial and socioeconomic oppression in Oklahoma. And her first nonfiction 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.
Colby President David A. 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,” he said, announcing the award. “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.”
In addition to Greene the Lovejoy selection committee includes David Shribman (chair), vice president and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Rebecca Corbett (Colby ’74), assistant managing editor of the New York Times; Mike Pride, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes; Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief of ProPublica; Christine S. Chinlund, managing editor for news at the Boston Globe; Marcela Gaviria, producer at PBS FRONTLINE; Martin Kaiser, retired editor and senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Robert E. Diamond Jr. (Colby ’73, LL.D. ’08), chair of Colby’s Board of Trustees; and Professor Daniel M. Shea, director of Colby’s Goldfarb Center.