Clippers and Quilts: Living New Deal Book Award Winners for 2023

The Living New Deal has named two co-winners of the annual New Deal Book Award, which recognizes outstanding nonfiction works about U.S. history in the New Deal era (1933-1942), a period spanning the depths of the Great Depression through the nation’s entry into World War II. 

This year’s book award is shared by Brooke L. Blower, Associate Professor at Boston University specializing U.S. History and political culture, for Americans in a World at War: Intimate Histories from the Crash of Pan Am’s Yankee Clipper, (Oxford University Press) and Janneken Smucker, professor of History at West Chester University of Pennsylvania specializing in digital and public history and material culture, for A New Deal for Quilts (International Quilt Museum, University of Nebraska Press).

The co-winners will be honored at a ceremony on June 22 at the Roosevelt Reading Festival at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, NY. Each will receive a $1,000 prize.

In Americans in a World at War: Intimate Histories from the Crash of Pan Am’s Yankee Clipper, Blower tells the story of the New Deal and World War II through the lens of the 1943 crash of Pan American Airway’s flying boat, the Yankee Clipper. Tracing the biographies of the Clipper’s passengers—Broadway stars, savvy entrepreneurs, swashbuckling pilots and skilled diplomats in the 1930s and early 1940s, Blower illustrates the important role that noncombatants played in the war, despite the U.S.’s isolationism in the decade prior to Pearl Harbor. Grounded in archival research, the book tells a riveting tale, bringing readers along for the ride on the Yankee Clipper.

A New Deal for Quilts by Janneken Smucker (International Quilt Museum, University of Nebraska Press) offers a fresh perspective on how policies designed to combat the Great Depression shaped the daily lives of ordinary Americans—especially women—and how, in turn, domestic practices, such as quilting, influenced those very policies. Smucker explores how quilts became tangled up with ideas and myths about America’s past even as they became central to a variety of New Deal work-relief programs. She introduces us to government photographers, oral historians and artists who documented quilts as vital historical artifacts, and the thorny interplay between federal agencies, politicians and the public. Smucker’s expertise, combined with the book’s many striking photographs from the 1930s and color images of the quilts themselves make this an exceptional contribution to the study of the New Deal.

Author Derek Leebaert took second place for his book Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants and the World They Made (St. Martin’s Publishing Group).

New Deal Book Award winners are chosen by a distinguished Review Committee. The award was established in 2021 to encourage scholarship and authorship about the New Deal. Nominations come from publishers, librarians, historians and the author’s colleagues. Seventeen books were nominated for 2023.

“The range of books is impressive,” said Kimberley Johnson, professor of Metropolitan Studies at New York University and Chair of the Living New Deal’s 2023 Review Committee. “I think we all were happy to see such an interesting variety of ways to think about the New Deal.”

Richard Walker, director of the Living New Deal, expressed appreciation to all participants, adding that, “It is immensely satisfying to see so much high-quality scholarship being done on the New Deal, revealing new dimensions of its contributions that still call out to us ninety years later.”

Past winners are Scott Borchert, author of Republic of Detours, How the new Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) about the Federal Writers’ Project; and Victoria W. Wolcott for Living in the Future: Utopianism and the Long Civil Rights Movement, (University of Chicago Press), which explores the New Deal’s influence on the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

Read the Committee’s full reviews of the 2023 winning books.

Read the synopses of the 17 books nominated for the 2023 award.