Friday, March 19, 2010

Sacco Wins Ridenhour Prize

For the first time, the Ridenhour Book Prize has been given to an illustrated book: Footnotes in Gaza, by Portland graphic journalist Joe Sacco, a book about a forgotten crime in the Gaza Strip in 1956.

Rafah, a town at the bottommost tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Buried deep in the history of the town is a bloody incident -- cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake -- in which 111 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Sacco immersed himself in the daily life of Rafah and the neighboring town of Khan Younis, uncovering Gaza past and present. Spanning fifty years, moving fluidly between one war and the next, the book captures the essence of a tragedy.

Sacco was born in Malta in 1960 and grew up in Australia and LA before his family moved to Beaverton, Oregon, where he graduated from Sunset High School. He earned his BA in journalism from the University of Oregon in 1981. Sacco has become one of the most well-respected comic book artists of his generation. But he's not so much a graphic novelist as a journalist, reporting on world events through graphics. Some of his previous books include Safe Area Gorazde, But I Like It, and Palestine, for which he won The American Book Award. Sacco currently lives in Portland.

We profiled Footnotes in Gaza on the Bookbroads Blog in December, and The Oregonian named the book one of the Top Books of the Year in 2009. The book is also a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize.

The Ridenhour Book Prize honors an outstanding work of social significance from the prior publishing year. The prize also recognizes investigative and reportorial distinction. In this year's announcement, the organization noted "The judges for The Ridenhour Book Prize honor Sacco's tenacious reporting and recognize Footnotes in Gaza as a work of profound social significance, one that explores the complex continuum of history. At a time when peace in the Middle East has never seemed more elusive, Sacco's illustrations bear witness to the lives of those who are trapped by the conflict. This marks the first time that the Ridenhour judges have awarded the prize to an illustrated book, but in the words of David Hajdu in The New York Review of Books, 'There is virtually no precedent for what he does.... Sacco is legitimately unique.'"

Sacco is the seventh recipient of the Ridenhour Book Prize, established to honor Ron Ridenhour. In 1969, Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai – the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War – bringing the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world. Ridenhour later became a respected investigative journalist, winning the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1987 for a year-long investigation of a New Orleans tax scandal. He died suddenly in 1998 at the age of 52. Last year's winner of the book prize was Jane Mayer for her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.

Congratulations, Joe, on this well-deserved honor!

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