Tiya Miles Wins Canada’s $75,000 Cundill History Prize

In News by Porter Anderson

Harvard’s Tiya Miles wins the Cundill History Prize’s top honor for ‘All That She Carried,’ a 2021 National Book Award winner.

Tiya Miles, winner of the 2022 Cundill History Prize, at the award ceremony in Montreal. Image: Cundill History Prize

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

MacNeill: ‘The Best of the Historian’s Craft’
At the Cundill History Prize‘s award ceremony this evening at the Windsor Rooms in Montreal, author Tiya Miles has been named the winner for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake from Penguin Random House.

Miles, the Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Harvard-Radcliffe Institute–and director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard–has previously been awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and the Heitt Prize in the Humanities. Her book The Dawn of Detroit received the Merle Curti Award, the James A. Rawley Prize, the James Bradford Best Biography Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction, an American Book Award, and a Frederick Douglass Book Prize.

For Americans, the title and Miles’ work may ring a bell because Miles won the 2021 National Book Award in nonfiction for All That She Carried. She has also been given the American Historical Association’s Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, which recognizes work in women’s history and/or feminist theory.

Miles’ has a forthcoming work of historical fiction, The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts, scheduled to be published on June 13, also by Penguin Random House. A prolific author, she’s known for previous titles including Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom from the University of California Press as well as The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story and Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery From the Civil War Era, both published by the University of North Carolina Press.

One of the richest international book prizes in nonfiction, the Cundill pays US$75,000 to its winner and $10,000 each to the winner’s fellow finalists, this year New York University’s Ada Ferrer for Cuba: An American History (Simon & Schuster / Scribner) and the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Vladislav Zubok for Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union (Yale University Press).

This year’s jury chair,  the Georgetown University-based environmental historian JR McNeill, said that Miles’ book is the winner “in a field of superb books, because of its clear and moving prose, its imaginative research, and the way the author illuminates the human condition through a family story.

“The world of enslaved women in the antebellum South is, by the standards of US history, extremely poorly documented, but Miles has risen to that challenge in ways that show the best of the historian’s craft. For me, the vividness and immediacy of the writing is the strongest suit of this powerful book.”

Jones: ‘How the Past Still Shapes Our Present’

The panel of jurors joining McNeill this year has included Martha S. Jones; Misha Glenny; Kenda Mutongi; and Yasmin Khan.

Jones, in a comment released this evening, says, “Tiya Miles’ All That She Carried is a history that reminds us about what makes us human. The book brings determined research and eloquent compassion to the story of an enslaved mother and her daughter just as they are doomed to be separated, and then discovers how one mother’s love survived across time and space in the form of a simple cotton sack.

“We learn how the past still shapes our present and how we might use its hard won lessons to face the hardship of our own times. Miles deploys dogged research and elegant prose to reveal how the survivors of slavery’s crime against humanity left a legacy that undergirds our present-day strivings for justice. 

“As jurors, we had the welcome opportunity to read All That She Carried over and again; it’s a book I will share with the people in my life as a model of historical scholarship and a beacon for finding our way.”

Tonight’s program was hosted by CBC Ideas presenter Nahlah Ayed. The ceremony is the centerpiece of a series of events around the prize, and you can register for digital access to much of the content here.

At tonight’s Cundill History Prize award ceremony in Montreal are, from left, Vladislav Zubok, Ada Ferrer, Martha S. Jones, JR McNeill, and Tiya Miles. Image: Cundill History Prize

The Cundill History Prize’s 2022 Finalists

The Cundill follows a different protocol from some of its sister programs, naming not a longlist, but an eight-book shortlist and then a trio of finalists.

Author Title Publisher / Imprint
Ada Ferrer Cuba: An American History Simon & Schuster / Scribner
Tiya Miles All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake Penguin Random House
Vladislav Zubok Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union Yale University Press

This year’s shortlist included a 2022 Pulitzer Prize winner, Ada Ferrer’s Cuba: An American History from Scribner. Two publishing houses had two shortlistees each, Yale University Press and WW Norton. Clearly the timing is auspicious for Vladislav Zubok’s Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union as the world grapples with the savagery of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the USSR’s aftermath.

About the Cundill History Prize

Previous winners of the award are:

  • Marjoleine Kars (2021)
  • Camilla Townsend (2020)
  • Julia Lovell (2019)
  • Maya Jasanoff (2018)
  • Daniel Beer (2017)
  • Thomas W. Laqueur (2016)
  • Susan Pedersen (2015)
  • Gary Bass (2014)
  • Anne Applebaum (2013)
  • Stephen Platt (2012)
  • Sergio Luzzatto (2011)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch (2010)
  • Lisa Jardine (2009)
  • Stuart B. Schwartz (2008)

Peter Cundill

The Cundill History Prize was established by Peter Cundill (1938-2011), who was the founder of the Cundill Value Fund. He was a native of Montreal, and took a bachelor’s degree in commerce in 1960 from McGill University, which would become—and remains—the seat of the Cundill History Prize. He would go on to have a career in investment management, opening Peter Cundill & Associates and the Cundill Value Fund.

He created the Cundill History Prize in 2008, originally with the name Cundill International Prize in History, to be “awarded annually to an author who has published a book determined to have a profound literary, social, and academic impact on the subject.”

Two years before the establishment of the Cundill Prize, he had been diagnosed with Fragile X Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome, with which he died in London at age 72.

An Award Program’s Impact

Having written in our story on the three finalists to the point of how little is known about a prize’s impact in market sales, we need not belabor the issue here. It’s worth reiterating, however, that if the Cundill program, now with its winner in place, can consider following the lead of the Booker Foundation in fiction and reporting on what impact can be seen from the visibility of this major win, it could be of considerable assistance to the international book business.

At this point, none of the leading nonfiction prizes is providing such indications of how responsive the world readership may be to such prize attention. As we wrote in our earlier note on this point, cash prizes are terrific, the cachet of these honors is welcome, and the commendations of discerning jurors is profoundly satisfying, no question. But book sales are the currency of the realm.

Update, December 16: Here is a highlights video from the 2022 award ceremony in Montreal, added once it was available, after our original publication date.

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 206th awards-related report in the 216 publication days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Cundill History Prize is here. More on the international industry’s publishing and book awards is here, more on the Canadian book market is here, and more on nonfiction 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 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 an arts critic (Fellow, 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.