Journalist and Denver native Julian Rubinstein’s highly publicized book “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood,” won the Colorado Book Award for General Nonfiction tonight at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver.
“The Holly” tells the radical and unforgiving story of the former Holly Square shopping center as the hub of a small section of Northeast Park Hill spanning eras from the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter. It is, in its own way, Denver’s own version of “Bonfire of the Vanities,” combining elements of economic oppression and gentrification against institutional power, racism, police and government corruption, and an anti-hero. reformed who is now running to be Denver’s next mayor.
This part of the story is the focus of a companion documentary just released which focuses on a former member of the Bloods gang named Terrance Roberts, who had opened a youth center atop the burnt ruins of the Holly Mall. Square but, in 2013, just before he was due to lead a peace rally to celebrate the upcoming opening of a new boys and girls club on the site. He shot and paralyzed a gang member he had previously framed.
Critical response to the book has been almost entirely positive. Booklist called it “shattering investigative journalism involving street gangs, race relations and law enforcement.” The book was an Editors’ Pick in The New York Times and appeared in many top 10 lists in 2021.
“In ‘The Holly,’ Rubinstein reveals that Denver is the crucible of so much that’s wrong with America: the chasms of race and class that divide the nation; corrupt policing and systemic discrimination,” wrote Dale Maharidge, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “And Their Children After Them.”
The book has been criticized by some close to the neighborhood who say it paints a Hollywood picture of the area as uniquely defined by gang violence, and reinforces some stereotypes about black neighborhoods.
The Colorado Book Awards, presented by Colorado Humanities, celebrate the best Colorado literature published in 2021 in 15 categories. Other winners include “Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy Seals,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Philipps, an epic tale of Alpha Platoon, the startling charges against their leader, and the court battle that revealed the dark underbelly of US Special Forces.
The General Fiction winner was Jenny Shank’s “Mixed Company,” which reveals moments of grace and connection among Denver residents spanning the city’s oil crisis era through the gentrification of recent years.
The next life for “The Holly” might just be a drama or a cable miniseries. The Oscar-winning team of Adam McKay and Denver’s David Sirota (“Don’t Look Up”) signed on as executive producers of the documentary film May, clearly seeing the potential for a long narrative version story to tell.
The film won the audience award last month at Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival in Telluride. “I was completely blown away after seeing the rough cut of ‘The Holly’,” McKay said. “From income inequality, race, gun violence and corruption, this film is America’s macro in the micro.”
COLORADO BOOK AWARD WINNERS
“Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas.” Edited by Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge and Joshua Viola. Illustrated by Aaron Lovett. (hexadecimal editors)
“Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Souls of the Navy Seals.” By David Phillips. (Random Penguin House)
“Read Island.” By Nicole Magistro. Illustrated by Alice Feagan. (Read Island LLC)
“Desert Chrome: Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West.” By Kathryn Wilder. (Torrey House Press)
“Mixed Company”. By Jenny Shank. (Texas Review Press)
“The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Fight to Save an American Neighborhood.” By Julian Rubinstein. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“The Cape Doctor.” By EJ Levy. (Little, Brown and company)
“Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue.” By Adrian Miller. (University of North Carolina Press)
“Only.” By Megan E. Freeman. (Simon & Schuster)
“What if we were somewhere else.” By Wendy J. Fox. (Santa Fe Writers Project)
“Red Rabbit on the Run.” By Jodi Bowersox. (JB Artistry)
“We the Jury.” By Wayne Miller. (Milkweed Editions)
“The Reincarnationist Papers.” By D. Eric Maikranz (Blackstone Publishing)
“The Dead Husband: A Novel.” By Carter Wilson (Sourcebooks)
“The Rise of the Red Hand.” By Olivia Chadha. (Erewhon Books)