For immediate release October 4, 2021

2021 Phi Beta Kappa
Book Awards Winners

WASHINGTON, DC — October 4, 2021 — The Phi Beta Kappa Society is pleased to announce the winners of the Society’s three annual book awards, $10,000 prizes given to outstanding works of non-fiction that engage a wide audience with important ideas in science, history and literature. 
This year the Society will celebrate the 67th anniversary of the Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards. Beginning in 1954 with what is now the Christian Gauss Award, every year the Society has lauded the accomplishments of exceptional authors in the United States. The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award were added in 1960 and 1961, respectively. For 2021, the Society will honor Jenn Shapland, Sarah Stewart Johnson, and Alice Baumgartner for their winning titles at a virtual event on December 8, 2021.
The three winning titles are:

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland, recipient of the Christian Gauss Award. Established in honor of Christian Gauss, an influential teacher, scholar and president of Phi Beta Kappa, the award recognizes outstanding books of literary criticism, including biography. 
From the publisher (Tin House Books)How do you tell the real story of someone misremembered—an icon and idol—alongside your own? Jenn Shapland’s celebrated debut is both question and answer: an immersive, surprising exploration of one of America’s most beloved writers, alongside a genre-defying examination of identity, queerness, memory, obsession, and love. In smart, illuminating prose, Shapland interweaves her own story with McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of our nation’s greatest literary treasures, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Stewart Johnson, recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. This award recognizes superior contributions by scientists to the literature of science. 

From the publisher (Crown): Since humanity first became entranced by a red star in the night sky thousands of years ago, we have looked to Mars for answers as we’ve struggled to fathom our place in the cosmos. Once so much like Earth, does life on Mars exist? Did it ever? And could it again? Planetary scientist Sarah Stewart Johnson has spent her career seeking answers to these questions and in THE SIRENS OF MARS: Searching for Life on Another World (Crown trade paperback; July 20, 2021), she transports readers to a place where no human has ever set foot. Brilliantly braiding together her own personal story with those of other contemporary seekers and the pioneers who came before, she intimately details the search for life on Mars—the setbacks, the advances, and the unanticipated breakthroughs—and elucidates why a major discovery could be just within reach.
South to Freedom: Runaway Slave to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War by Alice Baumgartner, recipient of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. This prize honors a scholarly study that contributes significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. 

From the publisher (Basic Books):

The Underground Railroad to the North promised salvation to many American slaves before the Civil War. But thousands of people in the south-central United States escaped slavery not by heading north but by crossing the southern border into Mexico, where slavery was abolished in 1837. In South to Freedom, historian Alice L. Baumgartner tells the story of why Mexico abolished slavery and how its increasingly radical antislavery policies fueled the sectional crisis in the United States. Southerners hoped that annexing Texas and invading Mexico in the 1840s would stop runaways and secure slavery's future. Instead, the seizure of Alta California and Nuevo México upset the delicate political balance between free and slave states. This is a revelatory and essential new perspective on antebellum America and the causes of the Civil War.

For more information on the winners, please visit the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award Winners page.
For more information about attending the virtual Book Awards Event, please visit the Eventbrite page.


About The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Founded on Dec. 5, 1776, The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation's most prestigious academic honor society. It has chapters at 293 colleges and universities in the United States, nearly 50 alumni associations, and more than half a million members worldwide. Noteworthy members include 17 U.S. Presidents, 42 U.S. Supreme Court Justices and more than 150 Nobel Laureates. The mission of The Phi Beta Kappa Society is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, foster freedom of thought, and recognize academic excellence. For more information, visit