2015 PEN/ ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing

Winner

John BranchBoy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard (W. W. Norton & Company)

The $5,000 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing honors a nonfiction book about sports. Eligible titles should be of a biographical, investigative, historical, or analytical nature and of the strongest literary character.

Read the PEN Ten Interview with John Branch here.

From the Judges' Citation

At its core, John's Branch's brilliant book Boy On Ice is an indictment of how we treat our professional athletes, in this case, NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, whose career began with the Minnesota Wild and ended, tragically, with a drug overdose, as he worked himself into shape to play for the New York Rangers. Through meticulous reporting and pitch perfect prose, Branch has constructed a kind of bildungsroman, the education of a young athlete in the hard ways of life among the so-called goons, as one of those players, though not as skilled as the others, tasked with protecting teammates by fighting. Especially appealing is Branch's depiction of life among the storied amateur leagues of western Canada, the locker rooms and desolate towns, the endless hours on the bus, highways and pit stops, and, of course, the arenas where boys as young as fourteen are sent into the game solely to fight. As adults, as fans and coaches, we are, in a sense, tasked with protecting the young not only from illness and danger but from their own desire—the length a young person will go to and risks they will take to achieve their dreams. In the case of Derek Boogaard, we failed. John Branch has given us a vivid depiction of that failure, as well as a heartbreaking rendering of those few moments of exfhilaration that came to him as relief comes to a boxer between rounds.

Shortlist

Boy on Ice (W. W. Norton & Company), John Branch
Black Noon (Thomas Dunne Books), Art Garner
All Fishermen are Liars (Simon & Schuster), John Gierach
Ping-Pong Diplomacy (Scribner), Nicholas Griffin
Deep (Eamon Dolan Books), James Nestor

Longlist

Boy on Ice (W. W. Norton & Company), John Branch
Why Football Matters (Penguin Press), Mark Edmundson
Black Noon (Thomas Dunne Books), Art Garner
All Fishermen are Liars (Simon & Schuster), John Gierach
Ping-Pong Diplomacy (Scribner), Nicholas Griffin
Bird Dream (Penguin Press), Matt Higgins
Thrown (Sarabande Books), Kerry Howley
Deep (Eamon Dolan Books), James Nestor
Life Is a Wheel (Scribner), Bruce Weber

2015 Judges

Rich Cohen, a New York Times bestselling author, grew up on the North Shore of Chicago, where he died with the Cubs and was reborn with the Bears. He has written ten books and a host of magazine articles for, among others, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, and Vanity Fair, where he’s a contributing editor. Cohen has won the Great Lakes Book Award and the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award, and his stories have been included in The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and three sons, but is plotting his return to Chicagoland.

George Dohrmann is the rare sportswriter to have won a Pulitzer Prize. He earned journalism's top honor in 2000 while at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 2000 he also joined Sports Illustrated, where his primary beat is investigative reporting. Dohrmann is the author of the book, Play Their Hearts Out (Random House, 2010), which won the 2011 PEN/ESPN Award for literary sports writing and was named the best sports book of the year by Amazon. He resides in Ashland, OR with his family.

 

Jonathan Mahler is a reporter and writer for The New York Times, and a former sports columnist for Bloomberg View. He is the author of the best-selling Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning, the basis for the eight-part ESPN mini-series. He also wrote The Challenge, the winner of the 2009 Scribes Book Award, and Death Comes to Happy Valley. A longtime contributor to the New York Times Magazine, his articles and essays have appeared in a number of collections, including Best American Sports Writing. He lives in New York.

Past winners

Marshall Jon Fisher, George Dohrmann, Dan Barry, Mark Kram, Jr., Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.

 

Click here for additional information, including submission guidelines, for the award.

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