Skip Navigation

OU Professor’s Book Chosen as a Finalist for 2021 National Book Award

OU Professor’s Book Chosen as a Finalist for 2021 National Book Award

"Running Out: In search of water on the high plains" book cover. Field with single windmill.

A book written by Lucas Bessire, associate professor of anthropology in the University of Oklahoma’s Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, was selected as one of five finalists for the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction. For this year’s Nonfiction competition, publishers submitted a total of 679 books.

The National Book Awards were established in 1950 to celebrate the best writing in America. Since 1989, they have been overseen by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture. Currently, the awards honor the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature and Young People’s Literature published each year. A panel of judges selects a Longlist of 10 titles per category, which is then narrowed to five finalists. The winners of this year’s awards will be announced on Nov. 17, during the National Book Awards Ceremony.

Bessire portrait

“It is the honor of a lifetime to have my work recognized by the National Book Foundation, especially given the other incredibly important accounts that are in the mix,” said Bessire. “It means even more because Running Out is such a personal book. It is also a shared story. I hope this stunning honor can help draw attention to the bigger issue and all those who are working to save our aquifers for future generations.”

Bessire’s book, titled Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains (Princeton University Press, 2021), is an intimate reckoning with extreme aquifer depletion on the High Plains. Running Out chronicles the author’s journey back to western Kansas, where five generations of his family lived as irrigation farmers and ranchers. Bessire’s search for water brings the reader face-to-face with the stark realities of industrial agriculture, eroding democratic norms and surreal interpretations of a looming disaster. Yet the destination is far from predictable, as the book seeks to move beyond the words and genres through which destruction is often known. Instead, this journey into the morass of eradication offers a series of unexpected discoveries about what it means to inherit the troubled legacies of the past and how we can take responsibility for a more inclusive, sustainable future. The book is billed as an urgent and unsettling meditation on environmental change and as a revelatory account of family, complicity, loss and what it means to find your way back home. 

This article was originally published by the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences.

Article Published:  Wednesday, October 20, 2021