Wes Enzinna, 2021 Award Winner

Wes Enzinna's own experience of growing up in a working-class family informs his longform reportage and personal essays on how the poor cope in an increasingly unequal society. 

Enzinna is a native son of the Adirondacks, where he was raised mostly by a single father who, after being incarcerated, worked in the tourist and service industries. “In the back of my mind,” says Enzinna, “whether I’m writing about homelessness, or political utopias, or hitchhiking, my interest in a subject is always rooted in my efforts to understand the contradictions of my youth—not having enough to eat at times in a serene mountain town where tourists kept $3 million vacation homes, the landscape of pristine forests and lakes spoiled only by the just-beneath-the-surface violence of widespread poverty.”

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Photo by Kathy Ryan

Enzinna is a contributing editor at Harper’s and a visiting professor in Columbia University’s non-fiction MFA program. He has written cover stories for The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and Mother Jones, and he is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and GQ. He’s won awards from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, the Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and the 11th Hour Food and Farming Fellowship at UC Berkeley, where he earned a Master’s Degree in 2010. His essay about traveling through Africa with two of the world’s greatest hitchhikers was a “notable” selection in Best American Travel Writing 2019 and his essay about living in a shack in Oakland was a “notable” selection in Best American Essays 2020. “No one chooses to be poor,” Enzinna once wrote, but they do “choose how to be poor,” and it’s the myriad ways people navigate that choice that animates all of Enzinna’s work.

Currently, he is writing a book about the housing and homelessness crisis in California for Penguin Press, for which he’s spent much of the past year reporting and sometimes living in a tent city in the San Francisco Bay Area. He will dedicate his residency at Blue Mountain Center to writing a section of the book.

“The Margolis award will afford me something I don’t take for granted,” says Enzinna. “Time, and a comfortable and safe place to write.”

See other finalists for this year's Margolis Award