Becoming Ms. Burton Claims Inaugural Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice

Contact:  Trish Anderton, Director of PR
Goddard Riverside Community Center
tanderton@goddard.org | 212-873-6600 x300 | 929-249-1449 

(November 1, 2017)— Becoming Ms. Burton [The New Press, May 2017], a searing account of substance abuse and mass incarceration, has won the first Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice.

Susan Burton’s memoir, written with Cari Lynn, traces her life from an abusive childhood through teen motherhood – and the tragic loss of her 5-year-old son to a hit-and-run driver. With no access to counseling for her grief, Burton self-medicated with alcohol and cocaine. Six prison terms later, she finally got the treatment she needed and began to heal.  Now Burton runs a network of safe houses in Los Angeles that help formerly incarcerated women start new lives through education and employment.


From left: Douglas Bauer; Tara Grove, education editor at The New Press; Dr. Roderick L. Jones, executive director of Goddard Riverside; Michael Zisser; Ellen Adler, publisher at The New Press; Paul Krugman

A panel of prominent scholars, writers and journalists judged the entries, including New Yorker staff writer and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman; Barbara Simon, associate professor at the Columbia School of Social Work; Michael Zisser, recently retired CEO of University Settlement and The Door; and Douglas Bauer, executive director of The Clark Foundation.

Becoming Ms. Burton is both an unforgettable autobiography and a powerful call to reform our criminal justice system,” said Josh Marwell, president of sales at HarperCollins and Book Prize spokesperson. “We could not have found a better book to express the ideals of this award.”

The Book Prize celebrates the power of the written word to create change in the name of justice for all people—a value shared by Goddard Riverside Community Center and its longtime supporters in the publishing industry. It is named for Goddard Riverside’s former Executive Director Stephan Russo, a visionary leader and champion of the underserved in our communities. The prize was inspired by Russo’s passion for a book about the affordable housing crisis. The prize focuses on key issues for communities such as housing, early childhood and secondary education, older adult life, city arts and social policy. The annual winner is announced each year at Goddard Riverside’s Book Fair Gala.

The short list for the award, released in September, was crowded with worthy entrants. Besides Becoming Ms. Burton, the finalists were:

  • Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo (Random House)
  • Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France (A.A. Knopf)
  • Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves (Brookings Institute Press)
  • No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers (Hachette)

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Goddard Riverside Community Center is one of New York City's leading human service organizations. Our 30 programs at 23 sites assist more than 20,000 people yearly with services including early childhood and youth programs, college counseling, supportive housing, employment readiness, older adult services and outreach to homeless people.