Langum Foundation News
This page is for current and upcoming news of the Trust and its work. Check back here periodically for links to news stories, upcoming deadlines, and late-breaking information.
APRIL 26, 2023
The winner of the 2022 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction is Mercury Pictures Presents, by Anthony Marra
Anthony Marra’s gripping Mercury Pictures Presents explores an unusual and carefully researched perspective into World War 2. Split between Hollywood and an Italian prison camp, the novel follows several interconnected lives at the point when America is just about to enter the war and shortly after. At the centre is Maria Lagana, an Italian political prisoner’s daughter and ambitious associate producer for a B-movie studio, “a job that demanded the talents of a general, diplomat, hostage negotiator, and hair-dresser”. The novel plays with viewpoint, surveillance and artifice. In a sudden reversal, Mercury Pictures shifts from defending itself in Congressional hearings about promoting pro-war messages to producing propaganda films for the War Department. Ultimately, they combine enemy propaganda and scenes produced in the studio rather than actual footage as “soundstage skirmishes look more realistic than the real ones”. While covering a full cast and wide geographic scope, Marra creates richly realized characters in vivid prose. Throughout, the story is comic, absurd and touching. – V.L.
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The finalist of the 2022 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction is The Magic Kingdom, by Russell Banks
The protagonist, Harley Mann, then an eccentric and somewhat crotchety old man, dictated these fictional memoirs into a tape recorder on the porch of his modest home in St. Cloud, Florida. Mann’s early years were spent with his family in an Indiana Ruskinite commune. The father’s ideological differences caused the family to move. This rigid adherence to principle ultimately hurt his son, Harley, as well. They settled in Florida in miserable conditions. The father then died, and Mann’s mother made a connection with a Shaker colony, New Bethany, located in the general vicinity of the present-day Disney World.
They arrived in New Bethany in 1902, and Mann grew into early adulthood there as a trusted young man who could not formally become a Shaker until he was 21. At age 12 he met Sadie Pratt, a sufferer from consumption and who lived at a hospital colony near New Bethany. When the hospital collapsed financially, she moved to New Bethany. Mann gradually fell into an obsessive love for Sadie, and after she moved to New Bethany they became lovers. We know that Pratt was attractive and about six years older than Mann, but not much else. Although one might ordinarily think of her as an undeveloped character, we must bear in mind that the entire affair is told, long after the fact, by an old man recalling an obsessive love. Pratt’s condition turns to the worse, and she dies, in a tangle of circumstances that result in Pratt’s accusation to the authorities that the leading elders over-administered her morphine. In turn, this leads the Shaker community to shun their accuser.
It is unusual that an historical novel dwells on the Shakers, but here they are given full attention, showing their beliefs, rituals, and practices. Another feature of the book, also fresh, is its consideration of riverboats as the usual method of transportation in middle Florida in the early 20th century. The book is engaging, and the narrative voice holds the reader well. – D.J.L. Sr.
APRIL 13, 2023
The Winner of the 2022 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History is The Sewing Girl’s Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America by John Wood Sweet
In this riveting and exhaustively researched account of one of the first rape trials, The Sewing Girl’s Tale brilliantly surveys the intersection of gender and class biases in its vivid portrayal of the social, cultural, and economic life of 1790s Manhattan and exposes the tensions between the democratic ideals of the new republic and the persistence of oppression of women and the working classes. In recreating the long-ago world of Lanah Sawyer, the aggrieved seamstress, John Wood Sweet provides an inspiring example of how disadvantaged persons can challenge injustices and shape their destinies in the face of great obstacles. – W.G.R.
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The Finalist of the 2022 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History is Democratic Justice: Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court, and the Making of the Liberal Establishment by Brad Snyder
In his exhaustively researched, deftly written, and timely biography of Felix Frankfurter, Brad Snyder helps us make sense of an often misunderstood and mischaracterized member of the modern Supreme Court. At a moment when the Court holds far less promise as an engine of social reform, Democratic Justice: Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court, and the Making of the Liberal Establishment paints a picture of a jurist whose ideology we are only now more fully equipped to appreciate. – D.S.
FEBRUARY 5, 2023
The winner of the 2021-2022 Malott Prize for Recording Community Activism is The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed, by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, Beacon Press (Boston), 2021.
Robin Broad and John Cavanagh describe the courageous work of activists protecting their communities in northern El Salvador. Their activism transcended the boundaries of their small, densely populated nation, bringing in groups from around the world, but they remained devoted, above all else, to preserving their community in the face of exploitation by vast corporate and banking interests. The Water Defenders is a tale of community organizing in the globalized Twenty-First Century. It is told with passion and sophistication by its authors, and stands as a tribute to the bravery of local and global activists who worked to preserve the resources—both natural and human—of communities in El Salvador. In doing so, the authors prove to be richly deserving of the Malott Prize for Recording Community Activism. – F.S.
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The finalist of the 2021-2022 Malott Prize for Recording Community Activism is Paradise Falls: The True Story of an Environmental Catastrophe, by Keith O’Brien, Pantheon Books (New York), 2022.
Keith O’Brien provides a vivid account of community activism in the infamous case that has come to be known as “Love Canal.” In Paradise Falls, he combines a novelistic narrative with a reporter’s eye to detail, to bring out the drama of a community besieged by environmental catastrophe, and their desperate, and ultimately heroic, efforts to hold corporations and governments accountable. His account seamlessly links their fight to larger political developments, but it never loses sight of the aspirations of people living in the community of Niagara Falls, NY, and their fight for justice. – F.S.