The 2017 National Magazine Award Winners: A Reading List

Credit: Keith Jenkins/Flickr

This year’s National Magazine Awards—otherwise known as the Ellies (or the award shaped like a modernist elephant)—was held at a luncheon Tuesday afternoon in New York. While the big titles, like New York, ESPN the Magazine, and the New York Times Magazine, held sway in several categories, there were some stunners among the honors, including Huffington Post Highline, Pacific Standard, California Sunday Magazine, and Eater. Mother Jones won the Ellie for “Magazine of the Year.”

The following is a rundown of some of Tuesday’s winning features:

Multimedia: The 21st Century Gold Rush (Malia Politzer and Emily Kassie, Huffington Post Highline)

The biggest refugee crisis in recorded history has engulfed continents, swung elections and fueled the rise of nativism. It has also made a lot of people very, very rich. These are the stories of the CEOs, criminal masterminds, pencil-pushers and low-flying vultures who have figured out how to profit from global instability, also known as human suffering.

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Public Interest: Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City (Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Magazine)

When the New York City Public Schools catalog arrived in the mail one day that spring, with information about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new universal prekindergarten program, I told Faraji that I wanted to enroll Najya in a segregated, low-income school. Faraji’s eyes widened as I explained that if we removed Najya, whose name we chose because it means “liberated” and “free” in Swahili, from the experience of most black and Latino children, we would be part of the problem. Saying my child deserved access to “good” public schools felt like implying that children in “bad” schools deserved the schools they got, too. I understood that so much of school segregation is structural — a result of decades of housing discrimination, of political calculations and the machinations of policy makers, of simple inertia. But I also believed that it is the choices of individual parents that uphold the system, and I was determined not to do what I’d seen so many others do when their values about integration collided with the reality of where to send their own children to school.

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Reporting: My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard (Shane Bauer, Mother Jones)

One day, I meet a man with no legs in a wheelchair. His name is Robert Scott. (He consented to having his real name used.) He’s been at Winn 12 years. “I was walking when I got here,” he tells me. “I was walking, had all my fingers.” I notice he is wearing fingerless gloves with nothing poking out of them. “They took my legs off in January and my fingers in June. Gangrene don’t play. I kept going to the infirmary, saying, ‘My feet hurt. My feet hurt.’ They said, ‘Ain’t nothin’ wrong wicha. I don’t see nothin’ wrong wicha.’ They didn’t believe me, or they talk bad to me—’I can’t believe you comin’ up here!'”

His medical records show that in the space of four months he made at least nine requests to see a doctor. He complained of sore spots on his feet, swelling, oozing pus, and pain so severe he couldn’t sleep. When he visited the infirmary, medical staff offered him sole pads, corn removal strips, and Motrin. He says he once showed his swollen foot, dripping with pus, to the warden. On one of these occasions, Scott alleges in a federal lawsuit against CCA, a nurse told him, “Ain’t nothing wrong with you. If you make another medical emergency you will receive a disciplinary write-up for malingering.” He filed a written request to be taken to a hospital for a second opinion, but it was denied.

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Feature Writing: “I Have No Choice But to Keep Looking” (Jennifer Percy, New York Times Magazine)

In December 2013, Takamatsu spent an hour each day reading a 350-page textbook to earn the national diving certification that would allow him to move debris and search for bodies. He passed the exam in February 2014. For months, he dove with Takahashi’s volunteer groups to remove debris off the northern coastline. He retrieved small items like fishing ropes, and once he found a tire and made a knot on a rope so volunteers on the surface could pull it onto a boat. After six months, Takahashi started to give Takamatsu lessons he wouldn’t normally give: how to find and retrieve bodies from the ocean, living or dead. Takamatsu learned the way colors shifted at different depths, because it would help him locate a body that had sunk. On sunny days, he descended through shades of blue, and in storms, shades of brown. He learned that the bodies of drowned people are usually found poised with buttocks high, hands and feet dangling. The corpses of scuba divers are like dead bugs, on their backs, hands and feet floating.

By this January, Takamatsu had been on 110 dives, each lasting 40 to 50 minutes. He was not just looking for the body; he was also searching for a wallet, clothes or jewelry — anything that might identify his wife after five years in the ocean.

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Essays and Criticism: David’s Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World’s Most Perfect Statue (Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine)

A huge crowd swarmed around the David, gawking and chatting, but I hardly noticed them. My girlfriend and I stood in the museum for an extremely long time, until the crowds began to thin. Eventually we left and moved on to another museum, another city, and then we went home and — as the years rolled up their sleeves and marched Americanly by — we got married, had children, found jobs. I fantasized about perfection while crashing, again and again, into what I discovered were the extremely solid walls of my own limitations. Just on the other side of those walls, I knew, stood the David on his special pedestal: an impossible destination that I was nevertheless determined to reach. But the meeting between my head and that wall began to take up more and more of my attention, and after a while I started to wonder if the perfection on the other side actually existed, if there had ever really been anything there to begin with.

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Columns and Commentary: Rebecca Solnit, Harper’s Magazine

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Video: Guns & Empathy: A Documentary (New York Magazine & Narrative 4)