U-M professor’s book on Attica uprising wins Pulitzer Prize


Professor and historian Heather Ann Thompson’s book “Blood in the the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy” has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for history.

Heather Ann Thompson

Thompson, a professor of Afroamerican and African studies and the Residential College in LSA, won “for a narrative history that sets high standards for scholarly judgment and tenacity of inquiry in seeking the truth about the 1971 Attica prison riots,” according to a statement on the Pulitzer website.

The awards were announced Monday.

“I am so incredibly, incredibly honored and humbled by this news of the Pulitzer,” Thompson said. “‘Blood in the Water’ chronicles the history of those many men — prisoners and hostages alike — at Attica who suffered so much trauma for daring to speak up, and I am so incredibly and deeply grateful that their story is being honored in this way.”

“Dr. Heather Ann Thompson’s Pulitzer Prize in history is an outstanding example of our faculty’s talent and commitment to academic rigor being recognized at the highest levels,” President Mark Schlissel said. “I am proud to congratulate her on this amazing achievement.”

Thompson spent more than a decade researching the 1971 prison uprising in upstate New York in which armed troopers and corrections officers killed 39 men — hostages as well as prisoners — and severely wounded more than 100 others during a four-day showdown inside Attica.

But the uprising comprises just one part of the book. Thompson focuses on the 45 years since. She delivers a detailed account of one of the most longstanding and horrific cover-ups in American history, and chronicles the victims’ decades-long quest for justice.

“It took me 13 years to finally recover the long-denied and hidden story of all that happened at Attica, and to shine light on what life is really like in places like Attica even today,” she said.

TriStar Pictures has optioned “Blood in the Water,” with acclaimed screenwriters Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel set to adapt the book for film.

“Blood in the Water” was named to 14 “Best Books of 2016” lists including those compiled by The New York Times, Newsweek, Kirkus Review, the Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly and Bloomberg, among others. Additionally, it was on the “Best Human Rights Books of 2016” list, and received starred reviews from Library Journal, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. 

Thompson is a native Detroiter who has written extensively on the history of policing, mass incarceration and the current criminal justice system. She also is the author of “Whose Detroit? Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City,” and the editor of “Speaking Out: Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“I am a historian interested in recovering some of this nation’s most important struggles for justice and this is why I was drawn to writing about the history of Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s in my first book, ‘Whose Detroit?’, and why I then wanted to recover the history of the 1,300 men who came together at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York  to protest the inhumane conditions there in 1971,” she said.

“And writing about the long history racial injustice is also what led me to write about  the current crisis of mass incarceration in the United States.”

Thompson has served on the boards of several policy organizations, including the Prison Policy Initiative. She also served on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel that studies the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the U.S., and has consulted on several documentary films.

— Mandira Banerjee of Michigan News contributed to this article.

(Editor’s note: This article has been updated from its original version.)


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