Elizabeth Becker’s You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War has won the 2022 Sperber Book Prize, awarded by Fordham University. The prize will be conferred on Nov. 7, 2022, at a ceremony open to the public held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.
Published by PublicAffairs, Becker’s biography tells the long-buried story of three extraordinary female journalists who permanently shattered the barriers to women covering war—American Frances FitzGerald, Australian Kate Webb, and French national Catherine Leroy. The three women arrived in Vietnam with strikingly different life experiences, but one common goal: to shed light on what was actually happening in the conflict in Southeast Asia. “At a time when women were considered unfit to be foreign reporters, Frankie, Catherine and Kate paid their own way to war, arrived without jobs, challenged the rules imposed on them by the military, ignored the belittlement and resentment of their male peers and found new ways to explain the war through the people who lived through it,” as Becker’s website explains.
Elizabeth Becker began her career as a war correspondent for the Washington Post in Cambodia. She has been the Senior Foreign Editor for National Public Radio and a New York Times correspondent covering national security, economics and foreign policy. She has won accolades from the Overseas Press Club, DuPont Columbia’s Awards and was part of the Times team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of 9/11. She is previously the author of When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, the classic history that has been in print for 35 years; and Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, an expose of the travel industry that was an Amazon book of the year. More about her work and career can be found at www.elizabethbecker.com.
Fordham Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies Beth Knobel, director of the Sperber Prize, said that Becker’s book stood out, even among the excellent works that were finalists for the 2022 Sperber Prize. “Our jurors had effusive praise for the research and writing of You Don’t Belong Here,” she explained. “The book shed light on the work of three brilliant journalists, two of whom are little known in the United States. Becker not only did a wonderful job of bringing their stories to life, but she also contextualized Fitzgerald, Webb and Leroy’s accomplishments in the larger history of the Vietnam conflict. More importantly, Elizabeth Becker also managed to humanize all those caught up in the war. The book makes a huge contribution to both journalism studies and history.”
The Sperber Prize jury will also award a certificate of achievement to Marvin Kalb for his distinguished career in journalism and his two recent memoirs. Assignment Russia: Becoming a Foreign Correspondent in the Crucible of the Cold War, was a finalist for the 2022 Sperber Prize, and his previous memoir, The Year I Was Peter the Great, was also considered for the 2018 Sperber Prize. Both were published by the Brookings Institution Press.
Assignment Russia, Kalb’s second memoir of his years living in the Soviet Union, presents a personal journey through some of the darkest moments of the Cold War and the early days of television news. Kalb not only describes what it was like to try to manage his work and life under the Soviet system, but also gives new insights into the work of CBS News in the US during the late 1950s. Kalb’s distinguished journalism career spans more than 30 years and includes award-winning reporting for both CBS and NBC News as chief diplomatic correspondent, Moscow bureau chief, and anchor of NBC’s Meet the Press. He is professor emeritus at Harvard University and hosts The Kalb Report at the National Press Club. He is also a nonresident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy program at Brookings.
Kalb was the last person hired by famed journalist Edward R. Murrow at CBS News, creating a special connection to the Sperber Prize—which is given in honor of the late Ann M. Sperber, the author of the critically acclaimed biography Murrow: His Life and Times. One edition of that work was published by Fordham University Press, connecting the Sperber family to the university. Through the generous support of Ann’s mother Lisette, the $1,000 award was established to promote and encourage biographies and memoirs that focus on a professional in journalism. The award has been presented annually by Fordham University’s Department of Communication and Media Studies since 1999.
Five biographies and one memoir were chosen as the finalists for the Sperber Prize, including the books by Becker and Kalb. More than 60 works with 2021 copyrights were considered.
The other finalists for this year’s prize, in alphabetical order, were:
- Melanie Kirkpatrick’s Lady Editor: Sarah Josepha Hale and the Making of the Modern American Woman, published by Encounter Books.
- Judith Mackrell’s The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II, published by Doubleday.
- Lisa Napoli’s Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR, published by Abrams.
- Donald A. Ritchie’s The Columnist: Leaks, Lies, and Libel in Drew Pearson’s Washington, published by Oxford University Press.
Previous winners of the Sperber Prize include Working by Robert Caro, Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow, Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley, Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson, Reporter by Seymour M. Hersh, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century by Alan Brinkley, Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottlieb, and All Governments Lie! The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra MacPherson. In 2021, the Sperber Prize was awarded to two biographies, Kerri K. Greenidge’s biography Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter and Lesley M. M. Blume’s FALLOUT: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World about war correspondent John Hersey.