The UK’s £25,000 Al-Rodhan Prize Goes to Hazel Carby for ‘Imperial Intimacies’

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The daughter of a Welsh mother and Jamaican father, Hazel Carby wins the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for her treatment of her family’s story in the context of the British Empire in the Caribbean.

Imagery of the author, Hazel V. Carby, from the cover of her winning book, ‘Imperial Intimacies’ from Verso. Image: Al-Rodhan Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Convert Pain Into Understanding’
In a digital announcement hosted by London’s British Academy this evening (October 27), the 2020 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding has gone to Hazel V. Carby for her Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands (Verso).

Carby for 30 years taught African-American studies at Yale and is a native of South London. She is the daughter of a white working-class mother from Wales and a father who was recruited from Jamaica to serve in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

In Imperial Intimacies, published by Verso, the award organizers say, Carby weaves her family’s story into the history of Britain and that of Jamaica as it was shaped under the British Empire.

Hazel V. Carnby

Hazel V. Carby

Promotional material from Verso for the book says that “Where are you from?” was a question that haunted Carby’s girlhood in London. “One of the so-called brown babies of the Windrush generation,” the publisher says, “Carby’s place in her home, her neighborhood, and her country of birth was always in doubt.”

For those unfamiliar with this chapter in British history, the BBC in July published an extensive write-up on the citizenship scandal named for the MV Empire Windrush, the ship on which islanders from the Caribbean often arrived in England during the middle of the 20th century.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the intent of the Al-Rodhan Prize is to surface formative international dynamics, making it no surprise that historical perspectives frequently play a key role in the works honored by the program.

As this year’s winner, Carby receives £25,000 (US$32,662), her work being deemed by the program to contribute to “public understanding of world cultures” by illuminating “the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide.”

Patrick Wright

Patrick Wright

In a prepared statement for this evening’s announcement, jury chair Patrick Wright has been quoted, saying, “This is a beautifully achieved demonstration of what can happen when the child of a mixed-race family takes her memories of growing up in post-war England and Wales, and treats them as the basis for an exploration of the history that made that experience and continued to weigh so heavily upon everyone involved.   

Imperial Intimacies reveals so much that should be remembered about the British Empire: the extent to which it shaped Britain and its attitudes, its cruelties, and the opportunities it offered even to poor Britons looking to improve their situation at the expense of their slaves or indentured workers.
“It’s exceptional both in the tenacity with which Carby builds up historical worlds to give reality to ancestors only remembered as names, and in the way she manages to convert pain into understanding without becoming reconciled to the attitudes and circumstances that cramped her parents lives and, to an extent, continue to exist in the present.”

Wright’s fellow jurors were Oxford political scientist Rana Mitter; Henrietta Moore, social anthropologist at University College London; author and journalist Madeleine Bunting; and Channel 4 news presenter Fatima Manji.

David Cannadine

David Cannadine

For the British Academy, its president, the historian Sir David Cannadine, said, “his prize, which is generously supported by Prof. Nayef Al-Rodhan, celebrates the role of nonfiction literature in illuminating new perspectives on global history and enlivening our understanding of cultural identity and difference.

“This book, examining the legacies of British imperialism both here and in the island of Jamaica, could not be more timely nor more important. On behalf of the British Academy, it is my honor to congratulate Prof. Carby for this significant, scholarly contribution to global cultural understanding.”

Carby is based in Vermont and is the author of Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America; Race Men; and Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. She’s also co-author of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.

Chosen From a Shortlist of Five Works

With Carby on the Al-Rodhan shortlist this year were:

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the 2019 winner of the Al-Rodhan is researcher and historian Toby Green, whose A Fistful of Shells: West Africa From the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolutionwas published in the UK by Penguin Books’ Allen Lane imprint.

Al-Rodhan’s own writings include Emotional Amoral Egoism (LIT Verlag, 2008); Neo-Statecraft and Meta-Geopolitics (LIT Verlag, 2009); Politics of Emerging Strategic Technologies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); and The Role of the Arab-Islamic World in the Rise of the West: Implications for Contemporary Trans-Cultural Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Al-Rodhan’s site is called Sustainable History. The prize now “for Global Cultural Understanding,” was established in 2013 and originally was called the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding. This will be its third year with the “Global Cultural Understanding” moniker.


More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book award programs is here, and more from us on the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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