ΦΒΚ Award Winners 2020

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By Skyler Aikerson

Pulitzer Prizes

Established at the bequest of Joseph Pulitzer and first awarded in 1917, the Pulitzer Prizes celebrate the year’s best and most impactful writing in journalism, literature, and music. 

Benjamin Moser (ΦΒΚ, Brown University) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Sontag: Her Life and Work (Ecco, 2019), which draws on interviews and Susan Sontag’s archives to paint a full picture of her work, activism, and personal life. 

Greg Grandin (ΦΒΚ, Brooklyn College) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (Metropolitan Books, 2019), which explores the meaning of frontier expansion to the United States’ identity throughout history, from the American Revolution to the border wall. 

Jill Burcum (ΦΒΚ, University of Washington) was a finalist in the editorial writing category for her call to preserve a local wilderness area from a proposed mine that would cause significant environmental damage for Minneapolis’ Star Tribune.

David Henry Hwang (ΦΒΚ, Stanford University) was a finalist in the drama category for the musical Soft Power, which was co-written with Jeanine Tesori. Soft Power “examine[s] the promise and the limits of representation in both the theatrical and political senses of the word,” explains the Pulitzer announcement.

George Packer (ΦΒΚ, Yale University) was a finalist in the biography category for Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (Knopf, 2019), which explores the life of diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence

Since 2012, the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction have been given annually to the best fiction and nonfiction books for adults. This year’s longlist includes three Phi Beta Kappa members. 


Elliot Ackerman (ΦΒΚ, Tufts University) for the novel Red Dress in Black & White (Knopf, 2020)

Colum McCann (ΦΒΚ, University of Texas at Austin) for the novel Apeirogon (Random, 2020)


Elizabeth Manton (ΦΒΚ, Syracuse University) for co-translating Humankind: A Hopeful History (Little, Brown and Company, 2020)

Root 100

The Root 100 is The Root’s annual list of the most influential African American leaders, innovators, public figures, and game changers who are between the ages of 25 to 45. This year’s Root 100 list includes three Phi Beta Kappa members. 

From their proclamation that “Black History Month Includes Black Queer History, Too” for Out to their interviews with film critics on inclusivity in media for the Los Angeles Times, award-winning journalist Tre’vell Anderson (ΦΒΚ, Morehouse College) is committed to centering the stories of people in marginalized communities. They are currently the president of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Los Angeles chapter and the director of the National Association of Black Journalists Region IV. 

Rutgers University professor Brittney C. Cooper (ΦΒΚ, Howard University) is a “master articulator of what’s current in racial politics,” writes The Root. By using her platform, Cooper’s cultural commentary elevates Black women and girls, adds context to current issues relating to racial justice, and makes Black feminism accessible to all. She is the author of Eloquent Rage (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). 

To help address racial health disparities, Annette Grotheer (ΦΒΚ, University of Colorado) founded The Shop Docs, a non-profit that provides hypertension screenings in barbershops to Black men. Since then, the organization has expanded and provides other types of health screenings, including screenings for HIV/AIDS. She has also been named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Healthcare in 2020.

Time 100

Time magazine’s annual list recognizes the world’s 100 most influential leaders, artists, pioneers, titans, and icons. This year’s Time 100 list includes three Phi Beta Kappa members.

For completing the first all-female spacewalk, Christina Koch (ΦΒΚ, North Carolina State University) earned a spot on Time’s list alongside fellow astronaut Jessica Meir. Of their historic exploration, Mae Jemison writes that they shifted “who we see as strong, brave, competent, and who’s on the team pushing the boundaries of exploration.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (ΦΒΚ, Harvard University) was named on Time’s list for his work on the Supreme Court. “In this era, when other branches of government and institutions in our wider society are insensitive to their own incivility, the Roberts court continues to decide questions central to the nation in a civil, thoughtful, rational, dignified way,” former Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy writes for Time. “John Roberts and the court teach that we have freedom but must work always to keep it.”

Angela Davis (ΦΒΚ, Brandeis University) was named on Time’s list for her legacy of activism. Rapper and actor Common writes, “Her love for Black people and humanity at large fuels her; you can see it reflected in her impact on our world.”

Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards

Three Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards are given annually to outstanding scholarly books in the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics published in the United States. The Christian Gauss Award, established in 1954, honors outstanding books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. Established in 1959, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science is awarded to superior books by scientists written to illuminate aspects of science for a broad readership. The Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, established in 1960, recognizes scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity.

Leah Price (ΦΒΚ​, Harvard University) received the Christian Gauss Award for What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (Basic Books, 2019). Price’s book explores the history of books, refutes myths about reading and the digital age, and “offers fresh hope to bibliophiles and literature lovers alike,” writes the publisher.

Sarah A. Seo (ΦΒΚ​, Harvard University) was awarded the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for her book Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom (Harvard University Press, 2019), which looks at how the relatively recent rise of the automobile in America has led to more invasive policing. 

Leo Damrosch (ΦΒΚ​, Yale University) was shortlisted for the Christian Gauss Award for The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (Yale University Press, 2019), a book that looks at the lives of “the Club,” a group of 18th-century thinkers, writers, and artists whose members included Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson, and James Boswell. 

Sean Caroll (ΦΒΚ​, Villanova University) was shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science for Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime (Dutton, 2019), which explores the Many Worlds theory of quantum behavior.

Christina Thompson (ΦΒΚ​, Dartmouth College) was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia (Harper, 2019), which traces the history of Polynesia and Polynesians. 

MacArthur Foundation Fellowships

The MacArthur Fellowship is awarded to exceptionally creative and talented individuals, and aims to help Fellows use their creativity and innovativeness to benefit society. Fellows are given a stipend of $625,000 over the course of five years. This year’s fellowship winners feature three Phi Beta Kappa members. 

Econometrician Isaiah Andrews (ΦΒΚ​, Yale University) develops “reliable and broadly applicable methods of statistical inference to address key challenges in economics, social science, and medicine,” writes the MacArthur Foundation. Through working across various disciplines and with collaborators, Andrews builds “technically rigorous statistical inference methods that overcome common problems encountered in applied empirical work.” 

Experimental physicist Monika Schleier-Smith (ΦΒΚ​, Harvard University) conducts research that exists at the intersection of “atomic, molecular, and optical physics and quantum information science with the goal of harnessing the properties of quantum systems for such applications as powerful new computing paradigms and ultra-precise sensors,” writes the MacArthur Foundation. Her work “is opening new avenues for the exploration of quantum effects that occur at the smallest scales of matter and connecting phenomena observed in the laboratory to a range of other areas of physics.” 

Biological chemist Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost (ΦΒΚ, Brandeis University) “investigat[es] the synthesis of new small molecules with bioactive or therapeutic properties,” writes the MacArthur Foundation. Seyedsayamdost’s research “is expanding the toolbox available to synthetic organic chemists and opening up access to a new trove of previously unknown and potentially therapeutic biochemical compounds.”

Nobel Prize

Along with two other recipients, Charles M. Rice (ΦΒΚ, University of California, Davis) was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the Hepatitis C virus. The discovery made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.

Andrea Ghez (ΦΒΚ, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) was one of three recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. Awarded jointly with Reinhard Genzel, Ghez received the Prize for discovering a “a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy,” according to a statement released by the Royal Swedish Academy.

Louise Glück (ΦΒΚ, Harvard University) was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal,” the Royal Swedish Academy announced.

Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals

The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals recognize federal employees’ accomplishments and service. This year, three Phi Beta Kappa members received medals.

Along with one other recipient, Neil C. Evans (ΦΒΚ, Johns Hopkins University) and Kevin Galpin (ΦΒΚ, Emory University) were awarded the Management Excellence Medal for developing telehealth options, apps, and other digital services for veterans to access care virtually, and for removing barriers to accessing this care through policy, administrative, and regulatory changes. 

Beth Ripley (ΦΒΚ, Stanford University) was awarded the Science and Environment Medal for creating the VHA 3D printing network, which has been used to reduce surgery times, decrease the amount of hospital visits for certain services, and improve quality of life for veterans.

National Book Awards

Established 1950, the National Book Awards recognize the year’s best fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature, and translated literature. This year’s finalists feature four Phi Beta Kappa members. 

Claudio Saunt (ΦΒΚ, Columbia College – Columbia University) was a finalist in the nonfiction category for Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020). Drawing from historical records and firsthand accounts, Unworthy Republic tells the history of Native Americans’ expulsion between 1830-1840 and “exposes the roots of white supremacy and the fruit it continues to bear, a reminder of both the power of the past and of the radical act of writing of it,” according to the judges’ citation.

Anne Posten (ΦΒΚ, Oberlin College) was a finalist in the translated literature category for High As The Waters Rise (Catapult, 2020). The judges’ citation describes the translation of poet Anja Kampmann’s novel as “rendered vividly.” 

Lisa Dillman (ΦΒΚ, University of California, San Diego) was a finalist in the translated literature category for The Bitch (World Editions, 2020). Her translation of author Pilar Quintana’s novel was described in the judges’ citation as “spare yet stirring.”

Elisabeth Jaquette (ΦΒΚ, Swarthmore College) was a finalist in the translated literature category for Minor Detail (New Directions, 2020). The judges’ citation of author Adania Shibli’s novel describes Jaquette’s translation as “deft.”

Skyler Aikerson earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Goucher College, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May 2020. Goucher College is home to the Beta of Maryland chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.