J. Anthony Lukas

Jay Anthony Lukas, or J. Anthony Lucas (April 25, 1933 – June 5, 1997), was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and author, probably best known for his 1985 book Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.[1] Common Ground is a classic study of race relations, class conflict, and school busing in Boston, Massachusetts, as seen through the eyes of three families: one upper-middle-class white, one working-class white, and one working-class African-American.[2]

Early years

J. Anthony Lukas was born to Elizabeth and Edwin Lukas in White Plains, New York, followed by a younger brother in 1935, Christopher Lukas. His mother was an actress, and his uncle Paul Lukas was an Academy Award–winning actor. Lukas at first wanted to be an actor. After his mother's death by suicide and his father's illness after her death, he was at the age of eight enrolled in the coeducational Putney School boarding school in Vermont. After he graduated he attended Harvard University where he worked at the Harvard Crimson. In 1955 Lukas graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. He continued his education at the Free University of Berlin as an Adenauer Fellow. Lukas then served in the US Army in Japan where he wrote commentaries for VUNC (the Voice of the United Nations Command).[3]


Lukas began his professional journalism career at the Baltimore Sun, then moved to The New York Times. He stayed at the Times for nine years, working as a roving reporter, and serving at the Washington, New York, and United Nations bureaus, and overseas in Ceylon, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Africa, and Zaire, before the Congo. After working at the New York Times Magazine for a short time in the 1970s, Lukas quit reporting to pursue a career in book and magazine writing, becoming known for writing intensely researched nonfiction works. He was a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, the Columbia Journalism Review, Esquire, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, and the Saturday Review, a co-founder and editor of MORE, a "critical journal" on the news media, which "collapsed" in 1978, and a "contributing editor to the New Times, an alternative magazine that folded also in 1978."[4]


While his last book, Big Trouble, was undergoing final revisions in 1997, Lukas committed suicide June 5, 1997 by hanging himself with a bathrobe sash in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.[5] He had been diagnosed with depression about ten years earlier.[6] In an interview that followed the publication of Common Ground he gave some hints about his impending suicide, linking it with his career as a writer. "All writers ...," he said, "are, to one extent or another, damaged people. Writing is our way of repairing ourselves. In my own case, I was filling a hole in my life which opened at the age of eight, when my mother killed herself, throwing our family into utter disarray. My father quickly developed tuberculosis—psychosomatically triggered, the doctors thought—forcing him to seek treatment in an Arizona sanatorium. We sold our house and my brother and I were shipped off to boarding school. Effectively, from the age of eight, I had no family, and certainly no community. That's one reason the book worked: I wasn't just writing a book about busing. I was filling a hole in myself".[7]


Lukas won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for an article "The Two Worlds of Linda Fitzpatrick" published by The New York Times (award category Local Investigative Specialized Reporting).[8] It documented the life and violent death of a teenager from a wealthy Greenwich, Connecticut family who became involved in drugs and the hippie movement. Also in 1967 Lukas was awarded a George Polk Award in Local Reporting.[9]

Almost twenty years later he received the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for Common Ground,[10] as well as the U.S. National Book Award for Nonfiction,[11] the National Book Critics Award,[12] the 1985-1986 Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Book Award[13] and the Political Book of the Year Award.

The Lukas Prize Project, co-administered by the Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, supports the work of American nonfiction writers. It hosts conferences and presents three annual awards: the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, and the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.[14]

Selected publications


  1. Haberman, Clyde (June 7, 1997). "J. Anthony Lukas, 64, Pulitzer-Winning Author". New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  2. Lukas, J. Anthony (1985). Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-74616-3.
  3. Literary Journal: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers and Editors. Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1996, by Edd Applegate.
  4. CLYDE HABERMAN (June 7, 1997). "J. Anthony Lukas, 64, an Author, Is Dead". Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  5. Carvajal, Doreen (1997-10-12). "Survived By His Book". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-04-24.
  6. Osen, Diane, "Interview of J. Anthony Lukas"
  7. 1 2 "1968 Winners". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
  8. The George Polk Awards for Journalists.
  9. "General Nonfiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
  10. "National Book Awards – 1985". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  11. "The National Book Critics Circle Awards" Archived July 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.. American Booksellers Association. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 5, 2006. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  13. "The Lukas Prize Project". Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved 2006-04-24.
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