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Brown University Book Award

2023-2024 Book Award



What is the Brown University Book Award?


The Brown University Book Award is presented to an outstanding junior, at annual school book award presentations across the country.  It is awarded to a student who exhibits excellent verbal and written communication skills.


The program was started by the Brown Alumni Association in 1960, with 100 books being awarded, and continues to grow through the generosity of Brown alumni who sponsor individual awards. The administration of the Brown University Book Award is now managed by the Brown Bookstore. However, the award itself is most often sponsored by a Brown University alumnus, although sometimes the high school, or one of its faculty or staff, sponsors the award.


The goal of the Book Award program is twofold: to reward promising young scholars while promoting Brown University's name among high school and preparatory school students.


The award itself is a book written by a Brown University faculty member or alumnus, and is determined annually by committee.

This year the Brown University Book Award will be Skinfolk by Matthew Pratt Guterl, L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies at Brown University.

A haunting, poignant story of growing up in a mixed-race family in 1970s New Jersey, in the tradition of The Color of Water.

Race is made, not born. It can materialize with a thunderous suddenness. It can happen to you in moments that will be cauterized into memory as if into flesh.

Could a picturesque white house with a picket fence save the world? What if it was filled with children drawn together from around the globe? And what if, within the yard, the lines of kin and skin, of family and race, were deliberately knotted and twisted? In 1970, a wild-eyed dreamer, Bob Guterl, believed it could.

Bob was determined to solve, in one stroke, the problems of overpopulation and racism. The charming, larger-than-life lawyer and his brilliant wife, Sheryl, a former homecoming queen, launched a radical experiment to raise their two biological sons alongside four children adopted from Korea, Vietnam, and the South Bronx—the so-called war zones of the American century. They moved to rural New Jersey with dreams of creating what Bob described as a new Noah’s ark, filled with “two of every race.”

While the venture made for a great photograph, with the proverbial “casseroles and potato chips out for everyone,” the Brady Brunch façade began to crack once reality seeped into the yard, adding undue complexity to the ordinary drama of a big family. Neighbors began to stare. Vacations went wrong. Joy and laughter commingled with discomfort and alienation. Familial bonds inevitably buckled. In the end, this picture-perfect family was no longer, and memories of the idyllic undertaking were marred by tragedy.

In lyrical yet wrenching prose, Matthew Pratt Guterl, one of the children, narrates a family saga of astonishing originality, in which even the best intentions would prove woefully inadequate. He takes us inside the clapboard house where Bob and Sheryl raised their makeshift brood in a nation riven then as now by virulent racism and xenophobia. Chronicling both the humor and pathos of this experiment, he “opens a door to our dreams of what the idea of family might make possible.”

In the tradition of James McBride’s The Color of Water, Skinfolk exposes the joys and constraints of love, blood, and belonging, and the persistent river of racial violence in America, past and present.


The cost of the Brown University Book Award is $39.00, which includes shipping and handling.

Sample Bookplate:


Book Plate
Size: 5"W x 7"H

Past Book Award Selections:


  • 2023-2024 - Skinfolk by Matthew Pratt Guterl, L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies at Brown University - $39.00
  • 2022-2023 - Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China's Civil War by Zhuqing Li, Visiting Associate Professor of East Asian Studies - $37.00
  • 2021-2022 - Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America by Eyal Press '92 - $37.00
  • 2020-2021 - The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez '90 - $37.00
  • 2019-2020 - Proving Einstein Right: The Daring Expeditions that Changed How We Look at the Universe by S. James Gates, Jr. (Ford Foundation Professor of Physics) and Cathie Pelletier - $37.95
  • 2018-2019 - The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will by Kenneth R. Miller '70 - $35.95
  • 2017-2018 - It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs '90 - $35.95
  • 2016-2017 - Defying the Nazis by Artemis Joukowsky III - $35.00
  • 2015-2016 - Liberty's Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell '88 - $36.00
  • 2014-2015 - The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun '06 - $35.00
  • 2013-2014 - Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick '78 - $39.00
  • 2012-2013 - Thinking the Twentieth Century by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder '91 - $40.00

Sponsors & Participating Schools

Sponsors choose the school(s) they would like to sponsor.  The school then must agree to present the Brown University Book Award at the their awards ceremony.  The sponsor may choose the degree of participation, while most just sponsor the book award and let the school handle the selection and presentation of the book award, others attend or even present the book award at the awards ceremony.  A select few even help with the selection of the recipient.

Participating Schools for 2022-2023 Book Award

Schools in Need of Sponsorship

Order Sponsorship

Brown University Book Award Administrator
Contact: Trade Customer Service
Ph: 401-863-3168
Email:  [email protected]

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