The National Book Foundation (NBF) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced the inaugural selected titles for the Science + Literature program; the author of each book will receive a $10,000 cash prize. The initiative, guided by a committee of five scientific and literary experts also announced today, identifies three books annually that deepen readers’ understanding of science and technology. Science + Literature is made possible by a three-year, $525,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation, and focuses on elevating the diversity of voices in contemporary science and technology writing through the prize and associated public programs.
The three inaugural titles—all authored by women—include a memoir, a collection of essays and poetry, and a novel. The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease by Daisy Hernández merges family memoir with investigative journalism. Inspired by the disease that killed her aunt, Hernández interviews doctors, epidemiologists, and patients in the United States and abroad to uncover the history of Chagas, a deadly infectious disease that disproportionately affects low-income Latinx communities. In The Radiant Lives of Animals, Linda Hogan draws from Native nations’ traditions and weaves together poetry and prose about her relationship to animals from her remote home in Colorado. The collection reminds readers that humans’ current relationship with the environment is not sustainable, and calls for a path forward led by Indigenous understandings. In the Field by Rachel Pastan is based on the life of the Nobel-winning cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock, and tells the story of a female geneticist attempting to make her mark in the mid-20th-century through the highs and lows of scientific discoveries, closeted sexuality, love, and discrimination in a male-dominated field.
“These three titles contemplate gaps in the US healthcare system, humans’ relationships to the natural world, and the legacy of a scientist ahead of her time,” said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “We are thrilled to celebrate these diverse perspectives, and inspire conversations around the role of science and technology in our everyday lives.”
“We are proud to partner with the National Book Foundation to honor three exceptional women writers whose works dramatize scientific and technological themes and characters,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “These authors join the Foundation’s nationwide book program, which has supported more than 200 books, including Elizabeth Kolbert’s Under a White Sky, and Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winner American Prometheus.”
An in-person, invite-only ceremony will be held on Thursday, March 3, 2022 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York to celebrate the authors and committee members. The ceremony will feature a conversation with the selected authors moderated by Saeed Jones, author of the memoir How We Fight for Our Lives.
The inaugural selection committee includes authors and scientists whose work explores the intersection—and public understanding—of science and the humanities. Dr. Morgan Halane is a biologist and the co-founder of #BlackBotanistsWeek. His graduate and postdoctoral studies in the life sciences at the University of Missouri, Pohang University of Science and Technology, and the University of California, Riverside led to advances in our understanding of plant immunity to pathogens. Lydia Millet (chair) is the author of more than a dozen novels and short story collections, often centering the connections between people and other living creatures. Her 2020 novel A Children’s Bible was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, and she has worked as an editor and staff writer at the Center for Biological Diversity since 1999. Dr. Safiya U. Noble, a 2021 MacArthur Fellow, is the author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. She is an Associate Professor of Gender Studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles where she serves as the co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. Margot Lee Shetterly is a writer, researcher, entrepreneur and the founder of the Human Computer Project, a digital archive telling the stories of all of NASA’s “Human Computers.” She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Aaron Yazzie is a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and a professional member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, participating in higher education and STEM outreach activities for students of all ages.
“We are grateful to collaborate with a committee of experts, authors, and public programming partners to initiate nuanced conversations on science and technology in communities across the country,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “We are especially thankful for the Sloan Foundation, whose partnership and generous funding helped make this initiative possible, and who have supported more than 200 writers via their multi-decade-long Book Program.”
Public events featuring the selected authors will take place in cities across the country in Spring/Summer 2022, including with partners at the Mechanics’ Hall in Portland, ME, which, since the 1800s, has served as an educational center for local masters of crafts and trades, and today hosts programs that nurture creative and cultural community; and Seattle Arts & Lectures in Seattle, WA, which cultivates transformative experiences through story and language with readers and writers of all generations. Event details coming soon.
Learn more about the Science + Literature program here.
Daisy Hernández, The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease
Tin House Books
Linda Hogan, The Radiant Lives of Animals
Rachel Pastan, In the Field
Daisy Hernández is the author of The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease, which has been named a Best Book of 2021 by NPR and TIME. She is a professor at Miami University in Ohio.
Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) is a poet, novelist, essayist, teacher, and activist. Her work illuminates environmental and Indigenous activism, as well as Native spirituality. She was born in Oklahoma and now lives and works in Idledale, Colorado, a town of 252 human souls. Her literary works have earned her fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Native Arts and Culture Foundation, and awards including the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas’ Lifetime Achievement Award and the Henry David Thoreau Prize.
Rachel Pastan is the author of four novels, most recently In the Field. Her previous novel, Alena, was named an Editors’ Choice in the New York Times Book Review. The daughter of a molecular geneticist and a poet, she has worked as editor-at-large at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and taught fiction writing at the Bennington Writing Seminars, Swarthmore College, and elsewhere.
Dr. Morgan Halane is a New York City-based biologist affiliated with Great Ecology and Atlas Obscura. He received a BA in English from the University of Missouri with a capstone focused on the adaptation of science fiction literature into film. His graduate and postdoctoral studies in the life sciences at the University of Missouri, Pohang University of Science and Technology, and the University of California, Riverside led to advances in our understanding of plant immunity to pathogens. He has published his work in several journals including Science, PLOS Pathogens, and the Annual Review of Plant Biology.
Lydia Millet (chair) is a writer of fiction, opinion pieces, and other ephemera. Her 2020 novel A Children’s Bible was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and one of the New York Times Book Review’s Best 10 Books of 2020. In 2019 she received an Award of Merit for the Short Story from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her 2010 story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Since 1999 she has been an editor at the Center for Biological Diversity, a group dedicated to fighting extinction and climate change. She lives in the Arizona desert.
Dr. Safiya U. Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, is an Associate Professor of Gender Studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles where she serves as the co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. She holds affiliations in the School of Education & Information Studies, and is a Research Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford where she is a Commissioner on the Oxford Commission on AI & Good Governance. Dr. Noble is a board member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, serving those vulnerable to online harassment.
Writer, researcher, and entrepreneur Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, and an Executive Producer of the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of her book. She is also the founder of the Human Computer Project, a digital archive telling the stories of all of NASA’s “Human Computers.” Shetterly is a scholar-in-residence at the University of Virginia, with joint appointments at the McIntire School of Commerce and the School of Engineering.
Aaron Yazzie is a Mechanical Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California where he designs mechanical systems for NASA’s robotic space research missions. His most extensive contributions have been for missions to the planet Mars, which include roles on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the InSight Mars lander, and the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Yazzie is Diné (Navajo). He was born in Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo Nation, and raised in Holbrook, Arizona. Through frequent outreach efforts, public engagement, and volunteer work, Yazzie is passionate about increasing and improving representation of Indigenous Peoples in STEM fields.