Heather Ann Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson is an American historian, author, activist, college professor, and speaker from Detroit, Michigan. She won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in History for her work Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.

Heather Ann Thompson
Lawrence, Kansas, United States
EducationUniversity of Michigan (B.A.)
University of Michigan (M.A.)
Princeton University (Ph.D.)
OccupationHistorian, Author, Activist
Spouse(s)Jonathan Daniel Wells
ChildrenDillon Thompson Erb
Wilder Thompson Erb
Ava Thompson Wells

Early lifeEdit

Thompson was born in Lawrence, Kansas. Her parents are Ann Curry Thompson, a labor lawyer in Detroit, and Frank Wilson Thompson, Jr, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan and Summer School lecturer at Harvard University. Her sister is Saskia Thompson (today Executive Director of the Detroit Land Bank). Thompson's early childhood was spent in Bloomington, Indiana and Oxford, England, but in her teen years the family moved to the North Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan. Thompson graduated from Cass Technical High School.


Thompson earned a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Michigan in 1987 and completed her PhD at Princeton University in 1995. Thompson was on faculty at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte from 1997-2009, and then on the faculty of Temple University in Philadelphia from 2009-2015. In 2015, Thompson returned to the Detroit area when she and her husband (historian Jonathan Daniel Wells), accepted faculty positions at the University of Michigan. Thompson writes about the history and current crises of mass incarceration for numerous popular and scholarly publications. Her work can be found in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Jacobin, NBC, Time Magazine, The Atlantic, Salon, Huffington Post, and Dissent. She has also appeared on NPR, Sirius Radio, and various television news programs in the U.S. and abroad. Several of Thompson's scholarly pieces, including "Why Mass Incarceration Matters," have won best article awards, and her popular piece in The Atlantic, "How Prisons Change the Balance of Power in America," was named a finalist for the Best Media Award given by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.[1] Thompson is a Soros Justice Fellow,[2] sits on the board of the Prison Policy Initiative,[3] and recently served as well on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel to study causes and consequences of incarceration in the U.S.[4] Her books include: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and its Legacy (Pantheon Books, August 2016); Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City (2001, new edition 2017); and the edited collection, Speaking Out: Protest and Activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Thompson was also named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians.[4]

The Attica Uprising of 1971Edit

The culmination of more than a decade of research, Blood in the Water offers the first definitive account of the 1971 Attica Prison riot. The book was released in August 2016 to coincide with the forty-fifth anniversary of the country's largest prison rebellion and will shed new light on the riot, the state's violent response, and the decades-long implications of Attica for those involved as well as America's criminal justice system. Thompson's research for the book included interviews with former Attica prisoners, hostages, families of victims, lawyers, judges, law enforcement, and state officials as well as significant amounts of material never before released to the public.

History of Detroit and the Present Day Motor CityEdit

Heather Ann Thompson's 2001 book, Whose Detroit? Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City is a regularly cited account of Detroit's history during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s. It is a comprehensive account of police brutality and the black political reaction to it in this period, as well as the underlying reasons for why Detroit became such a crucial site of black political activism and black political power after 1973. This book was published by Cornell University Press and a new edition of it is expected in 2017 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riot of 1967. This updated edition is expected to address issues currently facing Detroit as well such as its recent bankruptcy and the current challenges this city faces thanks to record rates of incarceration.



  • Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy (Pantheon Books, 2016). ISBN 0375423222.
  • Thompson, ed. Speaking Out: Protest and Activism in the 1960s and 1970s (Prentice Hall, 2009). ISBN 9780131942141
  • Thompson, Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City (Cornell University Press, 2001/2017). ISBN 978-1-5017-0921-0


Awards and recognitionEdit

  • Winner Pulitzer Prize in History, 2017.
  • Winner Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy, 2017
  • Winner Ridenhour Book Prize, 2017.
  • Winner J. WIllard Hurst Book Prize in Socio-Legal History, 2017.
  • Law and Literature Prize, 2017
  • Cundill Prize in History, Longlist, 2017.
  • Honorable Mention. Silver Gavel Award. American Bar Association. March, 2017.
  • Finalist Los Angeles Times Book Prize 2017. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy February, 2017. (announcement of award, April, 2017)
  • Winner. Book Prize. New York City Bar Association. January, 2017
  • Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy named on 14 "Best Books of 2016" lists, including those compiled by The New York Times, Newsweek, Kirkus Review, The Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, Bloomberg, the Marshall Project, the Baltimore City Paper, Book Scroll, and the Christian Science Monitor. Additionally, Blood in the Water was named on the Best Human Rights Books of 2016 list, and received starred reviews from Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.
  • Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction 2016. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy. October, 2016
  • Finalist, 2015 J. Anthony Lukas Award for Best Work-in-Progress in Non-Fiction, Columbia School of Journalism, March 2015.[6]
  • Finalist, 2014 Media for a Just Society Awards for Magazine Article: "How Prisons Change the Balance of Power in America" The Atlantic, National Council for Crime and Delinquency.[7]
  • Appointed Distinguished OAH Lecturer, Organization of American Historians, 2013.[4]
  • Most Distinguished Scholarly Article Award for "Rethinking Working Class Struggle Through the Lens of the Carceral State: Toward a Labor History of Inmates and Guards," Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas (Fall, 2011). Awarded by the Labor Movements Section. The American Sociological Association.
  • Best Article in Urban History Award for "Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History," Journal of American History (December 2010). Awarded by Urban History Association, 2011.
  • Soros Justice Fellowship, The Open Society Institute, 2006-2007.[2]
  • Rockefeller Archive Center Research Grant, The Rockefeller Foundation, 2004.
  • Research Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2000-2001.


External linksEdit