Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

William Langewiesche, USA

I’d like to keep surprising readers with unexpected subjects. I’d like to take them to places where they otherwise might not go, and to pursue this idea of mine that our world is not getting smaller but rather the opposite – that despite the uniformity that seems to afflict it, the human experience remains infinitely rich and varied.

Travel writer, journalist. William Langewiesche was born in 1955. He graduated from Stanford University in 1977 with a degree in anthropology. Assisted by his father, himself a pilot, he first sat behind the controls of an airplane when he was just five years old. By the age of fourteen he had already performed his first solo flight.

After two decades of working as a professional pilot, at the age of 36, Langewiesche began to dedicate himself to his true passion: writing. In 1991 he began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. His first piece of reportage for the magazine, entitled The World in Its Extreme, began a relationship with the publication which reaches up to the present.

Langewiesche has written on a range of issues which stand out both for their diversity and their strong, evocative prose. His reportage include pieces on the U.S.-Mexican border, a 300,000 hectare compound owned by the wealthy American environmentalist Douglas Tompkins in the heart of Chile, the plane crashes of ValueJet 592 and EgyptAir 990, the U.S. military deployment in the Balkans, the million-dollar nose of wine connoisseur Robert Parker, and the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, among others.

Langewiesche is the author of five books, his first of which is Cutting for Sign (1994), which deals with the complex reality of the U.S.-Mexican border. This volume was followed in 1996 by his book of travel writing, Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert. Sahara Unveiled has been translated into Spanish and German. In 1998, Langewiesche went on to publish a third book—a mixture of personal, philosophical, and journalistic essays—about his passion for flying entitled Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight.

His work on the aftermath of September 11th in New York, American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center (2002), is an insider’s account of the nine month period of clean-up of the Twin Towers, where Langewiesche was the only journalist permitted to cover all aspects of the demolition process. American Ground was considered to be one of the best books in 2002 by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and Publishers Weekly. His latest book, The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, was published in May, 2004.

Langewiesche has been nominated for several writing and journalism prizes such as the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and is a four-time nominee for the National Critics Circle Award. In 2002, he won the National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting for his piece in the Atlantic Monthly entitled The Crash of EgyptAir 990. Two years later, in 2004, his groundbreaking reportage on the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster—Columbia’s Last Flight—was awarded the same prize.

Langewiesche currently lives in France and California.

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"Literary reportage is linked to a long tradition which goes back to Herodotus. Travelling and writing about foreigners, distant, difficult, and unknown places is a necessity, because in some places people don’t have the luxury, the time, and the tradition of writing about their own culture."Abdourahman Waberi (jury member 2003 & 2004)