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Monday, Sep 25, 2023

Alumnus Streep wins $100,000 Journalism Prize

Freelance journalist Abe Streep ’04 received the $100,000 American Mosaic Journalism prize last month for his coverage of marginalized communities in the American West. The prize, in its second year, is awarded annually to two journalists who have demonstrated excellence in longform reporting about misrepresented communities in the United States.

Streep’s award-winning coverage includes a New York Times feature about a high-school basketball team from the Flathead Indian Reservation that experienced a wave of suicides and a Harpers Magazine piece about a Syrian refugee family settling into a new community in Montana. Judges praised these stories for shedding light on the diverse cultures that layer this often-misrepresented section of the country.

“Abe Streep’s reporting bursts with compassion and urgency as he lifts up stories of often-overlooked communities in the American West,” the judging panel wrote. “With great sensitivity, his work reveals the rich tapestry of cultures and lives that intersect in a part of the country far too often characterized by the stereotypes of an urban-rural divide.”

The prize is funded by the Californian Heising-Simons Foundation, and is awarded based on confidential nominations from journalism leaders across the country. Each year, two recipients receive the $100,000 prize with hopes that the funding will help them continue working as freelance journalists — a difficult profession to eke out a living, but one that plays a critical role in the exposure of diverse stories and perspectives.

A panel of 10 judges, composed of reporters, freelance journalists, professors and former award recipients, selected Streep and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah as winners. Ghansah won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her profile of Dylann Roof, the Charleston Church shooter, which was published in GQ. She has also written articles on figures such as Toni Morrison, Missy Elliott and Kendrick Lamar.

Sue Halpern, a scholar-in-residence at the college who once taught Streep in a magazine-writing course, has remained friends with Streep since he left Middlebury. She commended the award for its capacity to motivate writers and give them the freedom to continue their work.

“A prize like this, first of all, gives other writers the motivation and the confidence to find stories worth telling that may not be on the radar of establishment editors,” Halpern said. “It gives writers who are lucky enough to win this kind of prize the freedom to go out and do that kind of reporting and that kind of writing. It gives them the freedom to fail, to find the right story but the freedom to go out and look for it which isn’t usually available to writers.” 

In a short video produced about Streep after his selection, Streep said that he focuses on power dynamics and the lasting impact of history, using longform journalism to go deeper into the stories he is investigating. He noted that this can require careful attention.

“Being an outsider and writing someone else’s story is a really delicate process,” he said in the video. “But what I try to do is to spend enough time that I can let that person be a real person on the page. A complicated person. And to be responsible to them.”

During his time at Middlebury and briefly after, Streep was involved with the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, both as a participant and as a visiting editor. 

“He was really terrific in his role because one of the wonderful things about Abe — and it’s not surprising for a journalist — is that he’s a really good listener,” said Michael Collier, who directed the Bread Loaf conference from 1994 to 2017.  “He’s not just going to put himself forward right away. He has a really good sense about how to be in a group and how to listen to people. So he was really successful as a visiting editor because of that.”

Beyond his writing, Streep was actively engaged across campus during his time at the college. He transferred to Middlebury from Yale after his first semester and was an American Literature major.

According to a 2003 article in The Campus, Streep was a right fielder on the baseball team, a violinist and mandolin player for a student band called the Rt. & Ramblers and an avid flyfisher in his spare time. As a part of his band, he also spent two summers touring with Circus Smirkus across the Northeast.

“We tour with the circus and live in an old school bus,” Streep said in the article. “And we’re buying our bus, a 36-foot school bus, at the end of the summer for $1.”

Streep has expressed his gratitude to the foundation that awards the American Mosaic journalism prize, as well as to the Abdullah’s and the Arlee Community, the subjects of his recent writing.