Four authors served as judges for the 2023 BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest. Read about their picks for the finalists and stay tuned for the announcement of the Grand Prize Winner on May 27, 2024.

Business/Personal Finance

Charlie Gilkey, a returning judge, is a speaker, executive coach, business growth consultant, and author of both Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done and Team Habits: How Small Actions Lead to Extraordinary Results.

What can you share about your coaching and training company, Productive Flourishing?

I started Productive Flourishing in 2007 as a blog, not intending it to grow into a coaching and training company. Along the way, people started asking me to coach and consult on what I shared about creativity, productivity, and leadership. I originally hesitated because I had no formal training in coaching or consulting and was serving as an Army logistics officer while working towards completing my PhD in philosophy. After about 18 months of hesitation, I jumped into it. Pro-tip: arguing with people who want to give you money to do something they see you being great at is not a particularly good way to increase your income and opportunity surface area.

Since then, I’ve worked with hundreds of teams, from Fortune 100 companies to one-person ventures, across every sector. My specialty is guiding ambitious, compassionate, and multi-talented people in the creative class to focus on (and finish) what matters most and I’m particularly adept at working with women and people of color. My clients’ profession or role – or the type of organization they are – is less important to me than the kind of people they are.

You write about challenges surrounding 'work intensity.' Can you talk more about this and what you mean by 'slow productivity?'

Personal and organizational productivity has long focused on optimizing for faster, cheaper, bigger, and more. The persistent burnout, anxiety, under-performance, and revolving door of talents are natural consequences of trying to stuff ever more stuff into the same amount of time and increasing work intensity.

On a personal level, consider how many people attempt to do as many things as possible in the same unit of time. They’re walking while talking to a friend while checking text messages while keeping a half-eye out to make sure their kids aren’t riding their bikes into traffic. Sure, they’re doing more, but how much of the experience of any one of those things is diminished? It’s no wonder people are scattered, anxious, overloaded, and deeply exhausted.

At an organizational level, consider the unconscious assumption that a four-day workweek makes organizations better off. In some cases it does, but in other cases, people have to cram so much into those longer four days that they’re still having to take more work home or are exhausted on the day they get back. Instead of trying to cram the same amount into fewer days, many organizations need to consider how they can eliminate the low-value activities, waste, and parasitic efforts to allow people to have more time to spend on the more important, high-value tasks.

The ‘slow productivity’ movement rejects the unconscious assumption that faster, cheaper, better, and more is better for humans and organizations. Instead of molding people to serve economic and organizational ends, it changes economic and organizational priorities to center people’s capacity, capabilities, and needs.

What are some small changes leaders can begin making to help transform the way teams communicate and work together?

My approach to helping leaders change teams is to shift them from thinking about changing individuals to changing their team’s habits. People generally don’t want to be changed, but often are open to changing how they work with each other - especially when they know or feel that how they’re working with each other isn’t working for them and everyone else, too.

For instance, something as simple as having a ‘no agenda, no meeting’ rule that a team agrees to hold with each other can radically transform the number and quality of meetings. A second small change leaders can initiate is working through the three levels of decisions with their teams: Level 1 decisions are decisions people can make without telling anyone, Level 2 decisions are ones they can make but need to tell someone, and Level 3 decisions are ones they can’t make and need to run by their manager. The lack of clarity about who can make what decision leads to a lot of team chatter and unnecessary meetings, both of which eat up a lot of team time and displace focused work on important projects. Every team is going to experience tension, so another thing a leader can do is normalize that teammates are going to bump into each other, but the bumps aren’t intentional or personal. Instead of leaders getting involved in these bumps, fostering an environment where teammates feel enough belonging and trust to work it out themselves makes the team more resilient and connected.

What are a few positive changes you've seen over the last several years in terms of 'office culture' and the way we work?

While we’re still thrashing about it, the pandemic created a quantum shift in our ability to work in hybrid work arrangements. Before the pandemic, hybrid working was still something lurking on the periphery of the work conversation for so many people, but now it’s a central conversation that many organizations have to grapple with. As a convention, hybrid working is where email was at the end of the last century – it’s a business reality that must be reckoned with, integrated, or adapted to. More important than any given work arrangement, the fact that we’re having conversations about what work arrangements are best for organizations and workers is a good thing for office culture. I love it when organizations come together and embrace that mostly working in person is what works best just as much as I love it when they decide that fully remote or hybrid works better for them.

AI is slowly shifting office work culture, too, with some industries integrating it faster than others. As AI matures, it’s inevitably going to free people up to focus on the higher-value work of editing, evaluating, analyzing, decision-making, innovating, and working better with humans. AI will eat portions of a lot of our jobs, but it’s going to eat portions we’re either not good at or don’t want to be doing.

Another major change I’ve seen is a bit of the shifting of the managerial and leadership paradigms. Emerging managers and leaders have much more exposure to frameworks that help them navigate vulnerability, purpose, imposter syndrome, hedonic adaptation, and belonging and some of the previous givens of management and leadership have been questioned. These newer managers and leaders see that they can be open-hearted, more human bosses while still achieving important outcomes.

What are you working on now/what else would you like to share with readers?

My latest book, Team Habits, came out in August 2023, so I’m still in the early days of getting the word out about it. I’m also extending the Team Habits conversation by creating resources that help accidental managers become better managers and leaders. I also still regularly publish at Productive Flourishing for readers who are more interested in personal productivity, creativity, and thrivin


Alan Fadling is the president of Unhurried Living, a spiritual and leadership coaching consultancy, and the author of A Non-Anxious Life: Experiencing the Peace of God’s Presence.

Is there a way to both acknowledge life’s very real pressures and concerns while also finding a space to break free from them?

There is. I’ve tried overcoming anxiety and overwhelm by pretending they weren’t happening. You won’t be surprised that it doesn’t work. Acknowledging hard circumstances, difficult relationships, and anxious thoughts and emotions is part of the pathway to finding our way to peace.

It helps when I bring overwhelming feelings and circumstances into the presence of a God who is always with me, is gracious and faithful to me. God inviting me to follow God’s gracious guidance in my life has been a way of growing in peace.

The freedom comes as I learn to pray my anxieties rather than worry or ruminate about them. It adds extra weight when I add worrying to anxious thoughts, feelings, or sensations.

For lifelong anxiety sufferers, it’s difficult to even imagine a life without it. How do we go about creating a new, reformed version of ourselves when it feels so out of reach?

As one for whom anxiety has long been an operating system for me, I can empathize with this. One of my challenges was dealing with my assumption, that my anxiety was an asset. It got me moving. It pushed me to high standards of work. But it also drained me. If anxiety is fuel, it’s fuel that burns dirty. It does harm to my well-being, my relationships, and, in the end, the lasting quality of my work.

I’ve learned in my faith journey that the way of anxiety is less creative and more constricting than the way of peace. In peace, my vision is broader, my energy level is greener, and my work is far better focused.

Learning the way of peace is a practice. We can learn to move to gratitude or prayer rather than to complaining and worrying. I’m learning to notice anxious thoughts and feelings as though they were warning lights on the dashboard of my awareness, rather than automatically reacting to them as ultimate reality.

From your perspective, what does it mean to be a spiritual leader in today’s world?

The best thing I bring to the world around me is my own life becoming more loving, more joyful, more peaceful. Who I am as I do what I do makes such a difference in the quality of my work and how I relate to the people around me. The Christian tradition speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit,” listed as qualities like love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. Spiritual leaders model this rich fruit in an increasing fashion. This fruit is the result of a deepening communion with God whose nature is expressed in these qualities.

In a ‘hurried’ life, how can one find a place for spiritual growth and connection with the Holy Spirit?

I like to distinguish between “hurried” and “busy.” Busy is about everything that fills my calendar, my to-do list, my hours and days. Hurried is what happens inside me as I do whatever I do. Most of us are “busy”, at least in certain seasons of our lives. But we don’t have to be hurried inside while we do everything we do. That’s the invitation.

We won’t likely find time to tend our inner lives well. What I want to affirm is the profound value of making time for the care of our souls. Time invested in this way enriches everything else we do. The ancient way of talking about this is the practice of the Presence of God. Noticing that God is always with us, always available to us, always expressing care to us is something we learn to do by practice. This is what spiritual practices help us with.

As you’re writing, how frequently do you reach for passages of scripture to shape and inspire your work?

I’ve been on my own journey of faith since I was a teenager. I’m in my sixties now. There have been many passages of scripture that have become a sort of operating system for me over that time. Having reached for them so often, they are already with me as companions as I write. God’s Spirit is often kind to grant me new insights into familiar scriptures, and this finds its way into my writing as well.

What are you working on now?

I’m in the early stages of writing on the theme of what Jesus calls “being rich towards God.” There are so many popular visions of the good life these days. But since Jesus says that he came to give us life—an abundant one at that—I’ll explore that vision from a number of different angles.


Joseph Earl Thomas is the author of Sink: A Memoir, which PW called "a lyrical exploration of identity and survival."

What are a few important decisions memoir authors must make as they are writing?

I think there are just as many as with writing fiction. You have to consider the staging of events, the resonance and import of details and their symbolic linkages, how to compress events without lying, but I think most important for myself is thinking about how difficult it is to approach any truer description of reality in the midst of endless symbolic speech acts and representational forms that already exist.

We don’t always recognize a traumatic circumstance until we have lived through it. How difficult was it for you to revisit moments from your past, and what did you learn in the process?

I think that what is considered traumatic or not is deeply trained and social, and so I don't consider returning to anything difficult as I've never actually left. In a typical sense, trauma tends to describe experiences that overwhelm our ability to incorporate them into our psyche, but which experiences those are tend to be dependent on a host of pre-organized beliefs, external expectations, social pressures, and familiarization. What I learned in the process of writing Sink was mostly more about how power–in the form of other people in social systems like the family, the school–so thoroughly structures a "self" for all of us, even more so when we pretend to a kind of valiant individualism or heroic tropes.

You write about the comfort and escape you found through ‘nerd culture.’ Why was it important to you to explore this in your work?

I wouldn't say that "nerd culture," however we might define it, provided any kind of escape, though I understand why the book would be described this way based on the practices of reading we have available to us. I think any culture or community bears the force of violence or valorization often obscured by the confines of communication. What I was interested in was using the materials I, and many others I know, had at hand, which were certainly not books or any social system in which another individual had the interest or capacity to teach me the technologies of "Literature." The games and anime offered a way into thinking and feeling that is too often circumscribed to pure "entertainment" even as contemporary literature struggles to catch up to Hollywood at the level of entertainment/propaganda.

Why did you decide to write your memoir in the third person?

This was the best way I knew how to describe being manufactured by power, or a host of other people and institution's decisions or constraints, which felt more honest than the valorized "I," which triumphs over catastrophe through grit alone.

Can you talk about melding biographical content with the more literary storytelling elements in Sink? How did you ultimately decide to tell your story in the way you did?

I am not at all a fan of explanation. I think my writing is worse when I get bogged down in trying to explain moments of experience to those far outside of said experiences. It comes down to a kind of trust in the reader, though I understand that this can be costly, particularly in a culture that so despises both black people and children. Because I'm often bored with explanatory pauses in literature regarding well-known abstractions–you know, the light fare historical context, the social structure keywords of the day, or the hour from a bourgeoise liberal point of view–I'm trying to find ways to shift that perspective away from the kinds of repetition that avoid risk, labor, feeling on the part of any writer or reader.

What are you working on now?

So many things. My next book, God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer, will be released in June, and in it I do take up similar questions about how we might more ethically describe reality without the inherent assumptions of progress or valorization, community or common interest, and focusing on characters whose lives and potential fall outside of most everyone's circle of concern, as they cannot claim to be innocent, have no potential to be radicalized, nor do they directly produce entertainment for us.


Michelle Cassandra Johnson, an activist and intuitive healer, is the author of Finding Refuge, among other titles.

Social media can make it easy to believe that we live in a contentious, divisive, and sometimes mean society. Do you feel this is true? Is there a path forward to rekindle a greater sense of common humanity?

This is something I think about a lot. Particularly now as I am becoming more and more disenchanted by social media. In part, this is because I remember a time when it didn't exist. I remember a time when we hung up flyers, called people, and asked others to help spread the word about organizing events, community circles, and opportunities for learning alongside others. While I believe social media has been used to organize movements across the globe and share information, and while social media can support us in connecting with people we would not otherwise connect with, it also does create an easy way to be performative, divisiveness, and has most certainly perpetuated cancel culture. When I can see people and feel their hearts, I am reminded of how coming together in community is how we truly transform what is in the way of us being in our humanity. And I think people are doing this all over the world. I think we need to begin to hear what is spoken to us when we ask someone how they are. I think we need to work through the addiction to the doom, comparison, or affirmation scrolls and begin to return to our sense of belonging through community, nature, mindfulness practices, and true interaction with the world, which is very alive if we choose to connect with it.

You've written and spoken a great deal about collective grief and personal as well as community healing. From your perspective, what does this healing look and feel like?

Healing is the process of coming back into wholeness. I don't mean to suggest we are broken because I don't believe we are broken despite all of the systems that work overtime to break us apart from the truth of who we are and from each other. I believe healing is deeply personal and also rooted in connection with others. For example, I have several healing practices, including yoga, meditation, rest, gathering with friends, shamanic journeys, journaling, praying, and more. Many of these practices are ones I can do on my own to find or seek to maintain a state of balance and peace in my life. But I don't often engage in these practices from a space of only thinking about my healing because my healing is connected to the health and healing of all other sentient beings and the planet. The other thing I will note about healing is that it isn't linear. I imagine I will be in the process of healing myself and my relationship with others and the planet for the rest of my life. I claim our ability to heal as a collective, and I yearn to be in community with others who long to heal and believe it is possible.

In A Space for Us, you focus on the power and importance of BIPOC affinity groups. How did this book come about?

I have been an anti-racism educator for 25 years. I have been Black for close to 49 years. A Space For Us came about because of my Blackness and my liberatory anti-oppression work in the world. It originated from my desire to offer knowledge from my lived experience and work as an anti-racism educator and from sitting in countless BIPOC affinity groups as a facilitator and participant. A Space For Us came from a space of wanting to offer frameworks, tools, stories, and points of reflection through journaling prompts for BIPOC who seek to be in community with one another without the gaze of white supremacy watching us as we gather together. It is not that I am waiting for white people to free me; I am not. I am simply suggesting that when it comes to the system of white supremacy, white people will have to undo it as BIPOC dream of different systems and ways of being, which is part of our brilliance as BIPOC. We have always had to dream outside of the constraints of white supremacy. This is how we survived. A Space For Us is often what I call a love letter to BIPOC because we are much more expansive than what white supremacy has told us.

How does yoga philosophy continue to inform your writing and spiritual teachings?

I have been practicing yoga for almost three decades. While it was introduced as a practice largely focused on the physical body, in the time I have been practicing, I have been exposed to and deepened my study of the path of yoga as a way of living and being versus a physical workout. I often say yoga is a spiritual workout. It is a workout designed to make us better humans. It is a workout designed to teach us how to examine our conditioned responses and patterns and to work to come back into our true nature. One of the main principles of yoga is the remembrance that we are divine beings who come from a divine source and that we are interconnected to all beings. This teaching is at the heart of my teaching, which in large part is focused on healing because I believe we can do better for ourselves and the future. At the heart of who we are, we are not inherently violent, malevolent beings. While some, well, many people do exist who expose the shadowy side of humanity, I do not believe these people are inherently evil. I believe they are lost and under the spell and illusion of the hierarchy of bodies and the belief that one group of people can be supreme. This is counter to the practice of yoga, which always calls us back to ourselves and our oneness. The experience of oneness mirrors the law of nature and the natural order of things, and yoga can support us in remembering the natural order and disrupt what is misaligned with the natural order and nature.

What inspires you every day?

I have been a beekeeper for four years and currently have three honeybee hives. They are buzzing about this spring in North Carolina and gathering pollen and nectar from various sources in my yard and the surrounding neighborhood. One of the reasons why they inspire me so much is because they have taught me so much about community and healing. While there is so much for me to understand about honeybees, what I know now is that everything they do is on purpose and serves a function and role in service to their hive. They work to sustain the health of their hive even though a generation of bees doesn't live very long, in the spring and summer, six to eight weeks, and in the winter, around three months. They do what they can for a future they will not see and this is one of the most inspiring things we can do to. We can labor for a future we may not see while believing in the future we want to create for those who will be here on earth after we depart and transition to wherever we will go once we leave these incarnations of who we are now. Honeybees inspire me, and I think everyone could learn a thing or two about the world, humanity, community, polarities, union, connection, gathering resources, sacrifice, and unconditional love from them.