The fourth annual winner of the Puffin/Nation Prize for 2004 is author and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich, a longtime contributor to this magazine, as well as to other periodicals on the left and center. The award is presented annually to an American who has challenged the status quo “through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, socially responsible work of significance.” It carries a $100,000 stipend and is jointly administered by the Puffin Foundation Ltd. and The Nation Institute. The winner is chosen by an anonymous panel of judges.

Ehrenreich is the author of twelve books, most recently the bestselling Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. It has passed the 1 million mark in sales and is assigned reading at more than 600 colleges and at public high schools in Chicago, Madison and elsewhere.

In the tradition of writers like Jack London, Stephen Crane and George Orwell, Ehrenreich evoked the lives of the poor by first walking in their shoes–working in turn as a waitress, cleaning woman, nursing-home attendant and Wal-Mart clerk and experiencing how tough it is to “get by” on their pay. She writes all this in an engaging style that is mordant, witty, rueful and angry. In a profile of her in the Columbia Journalism Review, Scott Sherman said, “American journalism has a way of absorbing and neutralizing its mavericks and nonconformists, but Ehrenreich remains the person she always was: ferocious feminist, irascible idealist, stubborn socialist.”