Jürgen Kaube Receives Inaugural German Nonfiction Prize

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Nonfiction books ‘deserve a big stage right now,’ says the Börsenverein’s Karin Schmidt-Friderichs as this new awards program names its first winner.

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs awards the German Nonfiction Prize certificate to the award’s 2021 winner Jürgen Kaube. Image: Börsenverein, Monique Wüstenhagen

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

‘Thoroughly Does Away With Heroic Narration’
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, because of the intervention of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the German Nonfiction Prize was delayed a year in making its first award.  Created in May 2019 by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, its expected first year was scuttled by the timing of the contagion.

“We planned the German Nonfiction Prize for a long time,” says the Börsenverein’s Karin Schimdt-Friderichs, “and now it finally comes at exactly the right time. Our society is faced with important questions and decisions, and not just triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the German Nonfiction Prize, we want to provide an impetus for social debate. Well-founded research, in-depth considerations, different perspectives–that’s what nonfiction books can do and that’s why they deserve a big stage right now.”

Today (June 14), that first round of competition has at last been fully completed with the naming of author Jürgen Kaube to win €25,000 for his biography Hegel’s World (Rowohlt, August 17, 2020). The book is a consideration of the era in which the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel lived and wrote (1770-1831), a time of enormous change and development in Europe.

In its statement of rationale, the jury writes, “Jürgen Kaube thoroughly does away with the genre of heroic narration.

“He portrays the philosopher elegantly and ironically as a man who perceives and thinks through the contradictions of the period of upheaval around 1800, and yet repeatedly fails to recognize their revolutionary potential, for example when it comes to women’s claims to freedom.

“To Kaube, intellectual history is cultural history, and it was Hegel’s strength to surrender himself to all areas of knowledge with his whole person and thereby to doubt his own knowledge. This involvement in a changing world makes Hegel so inspiring for the present, in which unbiased thinking has to assert itself against false certainties, hostility to science, and the exclusion of the weaker. ”

Kia Vahland is chair of the jury this year, joined by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, Jeanne Rubner, Denis Scheck, Klaus Kowalke, Hilal Sezgin, and Tania Martini.

And social debate is the key criterion in this still young program. The prize is designed to award literature that can engage citizens in controversy, not unlike the American issue-driven Aspen Words Literary Prize.

The 2021 Shortlist: German Nonfiction Prize

Shortlisted authors receive €2,500 each ($3,030) from the Stiftung Buchkultur und Leseförderung des Börsenvereins des Deutschen Buchhandels (the Foundation for Book Culture and the Promotion of Reading of the Börsenverein). Deutsche Bank Stiftung (Deutsche Bank Foundation) is the main sponsor of the prize, which is also supported by the technology and information provider MVB and the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss (Humboldt Forum Foundation in the Berlin Palace).

The jury members have viewed 240 titles since the start of the call for submissions, books published between May 2020 and April 2021.

The jury compiled an eight-title nomination list from these nonfiction books.

The award ceremony took place as a live broadcast from the Humboldt Forum, a place for exchange and debates in Berlin.

The shortlisted titles for the inaugural German Nonfiction Prize


More from Publishing Perspectives on the German Nonfiction Prize is here, and on publishing and book awards in general is here. More on the German market is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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