2015 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award


Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown)

The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award is a biennial award given to a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues which has been published in the United States during the previous two calendar years. It is intended that the winning book possess the qualities of intellectual rigor, perspicuity of expression, and stylistic elegance conspicuous in the writings of author and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, whose four dozen books and countless other publications continue to provide an important and incisive commentary on the American social, intellectual and political scene.

From the Judges' Citation

'How do we, individually and as a society, make crucial decisions about matters of life and death?' The question was posed again and again in 2005 as Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, and it is the underlying question in Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial, a book that finds in the events that took place in one tempest-tossed New Orleans hospital a story, biblical in its elemental grandeur, about matters of life and death. Five Days at Memorial has all that one could wish for in a work of narrative art: comprehensive reportage, vivid and sensitive depictions of living people, a human sense of the immediacy of events and of the sprawl of underlying conditions (social, political, medical, financial) that placed those people in the circumstances to make the decisions they made. Life must be understood backwards but lived forwards, Kierkegaard said; and Five Days at Memorial shows the power of narrative art to enable us to understand life backwards so that we might live our lives forwards with greater understanding."


Our Declaration (Liveright), Danielle Allen
League of Denial (Crown Archetype), Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
Five Days at Memorial (Crown), Sheri Fink
The Big Truck That Went By (Palgrave Macmillan), Jonathan M. Katz
This Changes Everything (Simon & Schuster), Naomi Klein


Our Declaration (Liveright), Danielle Allen
All the Truth Is Out (Alfred A. Knopf), Matt Bai
League of Denial (Crown Archetype), Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
Five Days at Memorial (Crown), Sheri Fink
The Big Truck That Went By (Palgrave Macmillan), Jonathan M. Katz
This Changes Everything (Simon & Schuster), Naomi Klein
The Bill of the Century (Bloomsbury), Clay Risen
The Impulse Society (Bloomsbury), Paul Roberts
A Chance to Win (Henry Holt and Co.), Jonathan Schuppe
Powers of Two (Eamon Dolan Books), Joshua Wolf Shenk

2015 Judges

Andrew Blechman is an award-winning journalist who reported for the Los Angeles Times and The Des Moines Register. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic and Smithsonian magazines, The New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune, among others. His books, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s most Revered and Reviled Bird and Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children (both Grove Atlantic) were widely lauded, and released in paperback in the United States and abroad. Blechman is the Managing Editor of Orion Magazine in Massachusetts.

Paul Elie is the author of two books: The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage (2003) and Reinventing Bach (2012). The Life You Save May Be Your Own was awarded the PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for First Nonfiction in 2004, and both books were National Book Critics Circle Award finalists. For many years an editor with FSG, Elie is now a senior fellow with Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and directs the American Pilgrimage Project, a university partnership with StoryCorps. He writes for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Commonweal, and other periodicals.

Azadeh Moaveni is the author of Lipstick Jihad, Honeymoon in Tehran, and co-author, with Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, of Iran Awakening. She reported from across the Middle East for a decade as a correspondent for TIME magazine, covered the Iraq War for the Los Angeles Times, and continues to write widely on Iran and the region for numerous publications. She reviews books for the Financial Times and lectures in journalism at Kingston University in London. Photo Credit: Mehrdad Daftari


Rahna Reiko Rizzuto's memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the winner of the Grub Street National Book Award in Nonfiction. Her first novel, Why She Left Us, won an American Book Award in 2000. She is also a recipient of the U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the L.A. Times and Salon. She was Associate Editor of The NuyorAsian Anthology: Asian American Writings About New York City, and teaches in the MFA program for creative writing at Goddard College.

Paul Reyes is Deputy Editor of Virginia Quarterly Review. Before joining VQR, he was an editor at The Oxford American. His writing has appeared in VQR, The Oxford American, Harper’s, The New York Times, Mother Jones, and Details. In 2009, Reyes was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in nonfiction and was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Feature Writing. He is the author of Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida’s Great Recession (Holt, 2010).


Past winners

Robert Perkinson, Steve Coll, James Carroll and Katherine Boo. 


Click here for additional information on the award.

Like this page? Share it. Make a donation. Join PEN.