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Tuesday, May 17, 2022


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UR alumnus and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hamby wins book award

<p>Photograph by Stephen Voss.&nbsp;</p>

Photograph by Stephen Voss. 

Editor's note: The first version of this story misstated the name of the award Hamby won. It is the J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award.

A University of Richmond journalism alumnus and Pulitzer Prize winner recently won an award for his forthcoming book “Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice.”

The alumnus, Chris Hamby, ‘08, won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progess Award, which is awarded by the Nieman Foundation and the Columbia University School of Journalism. Hamby is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and lives in Washington, D.C.

In 2013, Hamby wrote a four-part series entitled “Breathless and Burdened: Dying from Black Lung, Buried by Law and Medicine,” which showed the problems within the federal black-lung benefits system, he said. Hamby won a the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for this work. 

All the information Hamby gathered over the years made him realize there was a bigger story he wanted to tell, and this bigger story became his book, he said. 

“This project has meant so much to me for years, and I'm incredibly grateful that the people behind the Lukas award also feel it is an important story to tell and are helping me make its finalization a reality,” Hamby said.

The award Hamby won for his upcoming book is "given annually to aid in the completion of significant works of nonfiction on American topics of political or social concern. The committee envisions the awards as a way of closing the gap between the time and money an author has and the time and money that finishing a book requires," according to the Columbia Journalism School website. Each winner is awarded $25,000.

In a summary Hamby wrote for the award, he said his book “uncovers the terrifying resurgence of black lung disease in Appalachia and the systematic deprivation ofbenefits to ailing coal miners. Decades have passed since the disease was considered a national disgrace and Congress was pushed to take legislative action. Since then, however, not much has changed.”

Hamby said being an investigative journalist for BuzzFeed News had allowed him the freedom to pursue large projects that he was interested in. He said he had begun reporting on black lung in 2011 and went on to a partnership with NPR exploring the reasons behind the recent resurgence of the disease in Appalachia.

“I had always thought I would go to work for a daily newspaper covering a beat, then maybe someday work my way up to the investigations team,” Hamby said. “Instead, I ended up as an intern and then staff reporter at an online nonprofit investigative news outlet, The Center for Public Integrity, and then at another online outlet, BuzzFeed News. And I couldn't be happier with what I've been able to do.”

Hamby said he had had no prior experience in book writing and that it had come as a shock to win such a notable award.

Mike Spear, a journalism professor, said he was not surprised Hamby had won this award because Hamby had always been a very thorough reporter.

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“He was a hound dog on the scent of a story,” Spear said.

When asked for his advice to future journalists, Hamby said: “Push yourself to try new things and don't be too afraid or proud to ask for help from others. Some of my most rewarding reporting experiences have come when I pushed myself into an area of unfamiliarity.”

Contact contributor Kate Breed at

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