By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008 11:37 AM
National Geographic dominated the National Magazine Awards last night, winning three prizes, including the coveted award for general excellence.
It was the second consecutive year that the Washington-based Geographic won for general excellence among magazines in the over-2 million circulation category. It also won the reporting and photojournalism prizes.
"How does National Geographic do it?" the judges asked in the award citation. Then they answered their rhetorical question: "With photography that reveals wondrous and often threatened corners of our planet, and reporting that is both intrepid and tough-minded."
The only other magazine to win more than one prize was Vanity Fair, which copped prizes for photo portfolio and profile writing.
The photo-portfolio award went to "Killers Kill, Dead Men Die," a gallery of Annie Leibovitz pictures in which contemporary Hollywood stars posed in elaborate film-noir-style scenes.
The profile-writing award went to Evan Wright for his piece on Hollywood agent Pat Dollard, which was, the judges noted, "a 23,000-word monster of an article chronicling his subject's harrowing but frequently amusing descent into drugs, madness, violence, and, improbably, his resurrection as a hero of the pro-war right."
Rolling Stone won the columns and commentary award for the political coverage by Matt Taibbi, who writes in the gonzo tradition of the late Hunter S. Thompson. For instance, Taibbi summed up the presidential campaign in this immortal if understated sentence: "In the absurd black comedy of the American electoral process, our presidential candidates are mostly two-dimensional monsters, grotesque approximations of human beings born by some obscene asexual reproductive method in the demeaning celluloid muck of the campaign trail."
Washington-based Atlantic Monthly took the prize for reviews and criticism for three columns by Caitlin Flanagan, which the judges described as "thoughtful and bracingly honest, filled with humor and empathy, and free of cliches and political correctness."
The Virginia Quarterly Review, a literary mag published at the University of Virginia, won the single-topic issue award for a "provocative and moving issue on South America." The folks at VQR are no strangers to these awards; they won two in 2006.
This year's award for public-interest reporting went to the venerable liberal magazine the Nation for two articles detailing how Jon Town, a Purple Heart-winning soldier seriously injured in Iraq, was denied medical and disability benefits.
Gourmet won the award for photography. Popular Mechanics won the "personal service" award. Wired won the design award. Harper's won the fiction award for short stories by Daniel Mason, Alice Munro and Steven Millhauser. And New York magazine won the "leisure interests" award for "a field guide to the city's sidewalk food."
Atlanta magazine won the feature writing award for Paige Williams's "You Have Thousands of Angels Around You," which the judges described as a "stop-you-in-your-tracks tale of a teenager who survived a war, lost her entire family, fled two continents and wound up in Atlanta."
New Letters snagged the essay award for "I Am Joe's Prostate" by Thomas E. Kennedy. " 'I Am Joe's Prostate' steals its title from the 1950s Reader's Digest series, but Reader's Digest was never like this," the judges wrote. "Wince-inducing, outrageously honest and wickedly funny, Thomas Kennedy's account of his prostate-cancer scare is essay writing at its most original. Laugh the whole way through, then ponder the subtext of medical testing gone haywire."
We will pause at this point to enable our male readers to take a deep breath and compose themselves.
Okay, moving right along: The New Yorker, which has won more National Magazine Awards (47) than any other magazine in the contest's 43-year history, won the general-excellence award for magazines with circulation between 1 million and 2 million. The other general-excellence awards went to GQ (500,000 to 1 million circulation), Backpacker (250,000 to 500,000), Mother Jones (100,000 to 250,000) and Print (under 100,000).
Sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the prizes were awarded at a black-tie gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York. More than 1,000 magazine industry honchos, mojos and panjandrums attended.