Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize


Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean has been chosen as the newest winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. Graywolf will publish the book in early 2015. Robert Polito served as the outside judge for the prize; Julie Barer of Barer Literary is Dean’s agent.


The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is designed to honor and encourage the art of literary nonfiction, and is given to an outstanding manuscript by an emerging author who has published no more than two previous books of nonfiction. Two previous prizewinners have been recognized by the National Book Critics Circle: Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays won the 2009 NBCC Award for criticism, and Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness was a finalist for the 2012 NBCC Award for criticism. The most recent winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, will be published in April 2014.


“It’s a marvel to see Margaret Lazarus Dean chart that greatest of American obsessions, the dream of manned spaceflight, from the ‘flashbulb memory’ of the Challenger disaster to the waning days of the last shuttle launches,” said Graywolf Press associate editor Steve Woodward. “Once a place where Mailer and Wolfe and others staked their claim, the subject has become, in Margaret Dean’s hands, an incisive look at how our forays into space, then and now, have served to reflect our national imagination. Leaving Orbit transmutes awe into understanding on this farewell tour of NASA’s shuttle program even as it looks toward what comes beyond the end of the future.”


“Graywolf was my dream publisher for this project right from the start,” said Margaret Lazarus Dean, “and I feel insanely lucky that Robert Polito and the Graywolf editors felt the same way. Graywolf is known for creative nonfiction that doesn’t shy away from complexity, that is smart and fresh, and that pushes the boundaries of the genre. To be included on this list of prizewinners like Ander Monson, Kevin Young, and Eula Biss is a fantasy come true.”


Robert Polito, outgoing Director of the Graduate Writing Program at the New School in New York and soon-to-be president of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago had high praise for Leaving Orbit:


“Something analogous to Bob Dylan’s temporal and spatial freewheelin’ propels Margaret Lazarus Dean’s smart, spirited, and elegiac new book, as she tracks the trajectory of the final three manned space shuttle orbiters of the 21st century. For his spaceflight story, Mailer proved skeptical, if ultimately exuberant, whereas Dean emerges as a poet of a belated, cooler, perhaps more clear-eyed and rueful tone: ‘Sometimes it seems as though Norman Mailer’s generation got to see the beginnings of things and mine has gotten the ends.’”


Other previous winners of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize include Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI’s Secret from Postwar Japan by Terese Svoboda; Neck Deep and Other Predicaments by Ander Monson; and Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles by Kate Braverman.


About Margaret Lazarus Dean

Margaret Lazarus Dean grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. She holds a BA in anthropology from Wellesley College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Time It Takes to Fall (Simon & Schuster, 2007), a novel about the space shuttle Challenger disaster.  Her work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, FiveChapters, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Huffington Post, and she is a recipient of an NEA fellowship and a Hopwood Award for the novel. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee and lives in Knoxville.


About Robert Polito

Robert Polito is a poet, biographer, and critic. His most recent books are the poetry collection Hollywood & God, and The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. Other books include Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography; Doubles; and A Reader’s Guide to James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover. The recipient of Ingram Merrill and Guggenheim, Polito has served since 1992 as director of Creative Writing at The New School. In July he will become president of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.


About Graywolf Press

Graywolf Press is an independent, not-for-profit publisher dedicated to the creation and promotion of thoughtful and imaginative contemporary literature essential to a vital and diverse culture. Graywolf has published significant books of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and translations for over thirty-five years, and has become one of the leading literary publishers in the country. For more information, please visit our web site:


The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is funded in part by endowed gifts from the Arsham Ohanessian Charitable Remainder Unitrust and the Ruth Easton Fund of the Edelstein Family Foundation.