By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
On the subject of awards, see also the Society of Authors’ Awards program, which coincided with the Wolfson History Prize’s ceremony.
‘An Erudite and Elegant Biography’
In a virtual ceremony today (June 9) streamed from London, the United Kingdom’s 49th Wolfson History Prize has gone to author Sudhir Hazareesingh for Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture, one of two shortlisted titles for the award published by Penguin Random House/Allen Lane. In the United States, the book is published by Macmillan/Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Hazareesingh was born on Mauritius. Since 1990, he’s been a fellow and tutor in politics at Oxford’s Balliol College. He has written extensively about French intellectual and cultural history. His books include The Legend of Napoleon (2004); In the Shadow of the General: Modern France and the Myth of De Gaulle; and How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People.
He has won the Prix du Mémorial d’Ajaccio, the Prix de la Fondation Napoléon, the Prix d’Histoire du Sénat, and the Grand Prix du Livre d’Idées.
On the news of his win, Hazareesingh is quoted saying, “Completing this book made me realize more acutely than ever how much the writing of history is a collective effort, resting on the accumulated wisdom from current and previous generations, and I would like to dedicate this award to the Haitian people, and to all the scholars who have helped give the Saint-Domingue revolution, this landmark event in the fight for emancipation and dignity, the prominence it deserves.”
Competing for attention this evening with the Society of Authors’ 2021 “SoA Awards,” the Wolfson Prize program awards Hazareesingh with a £40,000 purse (US$56,455) and also provides £4,000 (US$5,645) for each of the shortlisted writers, whom we announced in April.
The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity with a focus on research and education.
Said to have been dismissed once by Thomas Jefferson as a “cannibal,” Haitian Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) was a key leader of the slaves’ revolution that would in 1804, after his death, force the French out of Saint-Domingue, as Haiti then was known. The former slaves had freed themselves, and went on to rule the state they created.
A trustee of the Wolfson Foundation, David Cannadine again this year has served as chair of the jury, and was joined by Richard Evans, Carole Hillenbrand, and Diarmaid MacCulloch.
In a prepared statement about the selection, Cannadine says, “Black Spartacus vividly recreates the extraordinary career of the leader and hero of the Haitian Revolution, which reverberated far beyond that island and far beyond the Caribbean.
“This is an erudite and elegant biography with a message that resonates strongly in our own time, and we extend our warmest congratulations to Sudhir Hazareesingh.”
And Paul Ramsbottom, who is CEO of the Wolfson Foundation, is quoted saying, “For nearly 50 years, the Wolfson History Prize has highlighted history that is not only carefully researched but which is also accessible and elegantly written.
“Never have the aims of the prize been more necessary than in these days of challenge and uncertainty.
“Sudhir Hazareesingh’s remarkable book is a sparkling example of the role history can play in society today and, in particular, the importance of shining a light on the often-overlooked experiences of the past.”
Prior to today’s win of the Wolfson Prize, Hazareesingh’s book attracted an unusually deep set of competition honors, being a finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bogard Weld Award for Biography in 2020, and shortlisted for:
- The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2020
- The Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, 2020
- The James Tait Black Prize for Biography, 2021
- The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize, 2020
- The Prix Château de Versailles du Livre d’Histoire, 2021
- The Prix Jean d’Ormesson, 2021
This Year’s Wolfson History Prizes Shortlist
- Survivors: Children’s Lives after the Holocaust (Yale University Press) by Rebecca Clifford
- Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Penguin Random House/Allen Lane) by Sudhir Hazareesingh
- Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe (Penguin Random House/Allen Lane) by Judith Herrin
- Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood (Bloomsbury) by Helen McCarthy
- Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack (John Murray Press) by Richard Ovenden
- Atlantic Wars: From the Fifteenth Century to the Age of Revolution (Oxford University Press) by Geoffrey Plank
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the 2020 Wolfson was won by David Abulavia for The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (Penguin Books/Allen Lane, 2019).
To be eligible for consideration, authors must be resident in the UK in the year of the book’s publication (the preceding year of the award), and must not be previous winners of the prize. The book in question, according to the program’s regulations, must be “scholarly, accessible and well written.”
Below is tonight’s digital presentation of the Wolfson History Prize:
More from Publishing Perspectives on world publishing’s myriad book and industry awards is here. More from us on the Wolfson History Prize is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.