The 2015 National Magazine Awards, announced last night in New York, featured a number of first-time winners and surprise picks, as well as some expected stalwarts, giving readers some new material to check out — and a good reason to finally catch up on those stories they never got around to reading last year.
The winner in the reporting category was Jeff Sharlet’s examination of gay life in Russia for GQ, annotated by Nieman Storyboard shortly after its publication. In his discussion with Storyboard, Sharlet described the challenge of structuring the piece:
“I knew there wasn’t going to be a resolution to the story. I also knew that I didn’t want to do some kind of policy story with anecdotal illustration. What felt right to me was a story about a mood, or moods. Increasingly, I think this is something that literary journalism can do in a way most fiction — either dependent on plot or defying plot, but always in relation to plot — can’t. Poems can, of course, but there are other things poems aren’t as good at, like information. Literary journalism can give you information and mood at the same time.”
For essays and criticism, Roger Angell was recognized for his New Yorker article about the challenges and joys of being 93, beating out competitors who included Monica Lewinsky, who wrote in Vanity Fair about the fallout from her past, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose Atlantic essay, “The Case for Reparations,” was one of the most talked-about stories of the year.
Angell, of course, is best known for his writing on baseball and in a Storyboard annotation last year of his famed New Yorker “Down the Drain” profile of a pitcher with the yips, he talked about his approach to writing, saying, “That’s what writers do: They try to make it concise and funny or something. I try to keep my prose lighthearted.”
This excerpt from his winning essay captures that sharp mix of insight and humor:
“It shouldn’t surprise me if at this time next week I’m surrounded by family, gathered on short notice—they’re sad and shocked but also a little pissed off to be here—to help decide, after what’s happened, what’s to be done with me now. It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again. ‘How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!’ they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, ‘Holy shit—he’s still vertical!’”
The feature writing prize went to The Atavist — its first Ellie, as the awards are known, and the first feature writing award for a digital-only publication. The winning article, “Love and Ruin” by James Verini, recounts the lives of an American archaeologist, Louis Dupree, and his wife, Nancy, in Afghanistan. Here, Verini describes “Daddy’s Head,” an artifact Dupree found:
“One photograph of the couple shows them sitting at a table, gazing at the artifact as Louis holds it in his fingers (gingerly, but on equal terms). They appear mesmerized, as though Daddy’s Head is almost physically drawing them back in time. The photo was taken in 1971, as they were falling more deeply in love with one another, and, together, with Afghanistan. They peered into the country’s wondrous, terrible, unknowable past. Daddy’s Head, they liked to think, was opening its vault of secrets.”
Other award winners included The Texas Observer, in partnership with Guardian US, which took the multimedia category for its four-part series on the deaths of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States, and Amanda Hess, whose article about online harassment of women for Pacific Standard, won the public interest award.
For a full list of winners, with links to the articles, go here.