Joanna Kusiak Wins the $100,000 Nine Dots Prize, Cambridge Book Contract

In News by Porter AndersonLeave a Comment

Unique among book and publishing awards, the biennial Nine Dots Prize honors ‘original thinking’ on ‘contemporary societal issues.’

Scholar-activist Joanna Kusiak, PhD, winner of the 2023 Nine Dots Prize and its accompanying book contract with Cambridge University Press. Image: Nine Dots Prize, Andy Bate Ltd.

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

How the Rule of Law ‘Gets Entangled by Power’
Referring to herself as a scholar-activist, Joanna Kusiak has today (May 31) been named the winner of the US$100,000 biennial Nine Dots Prize, which includes a contract with Cambridge University Press. The name of the prize reflects the familiar lateral puzzle, which can be solved only by thinking “outside the box.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Nine Dots Prize, you’ll likely know some of its board members. They include the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian, and journalist Anne Applebaum; the founder and CEO of New Delhi’s Zubaan Books, Urvashi Butalia; Cambridge politics professor David Runciman; World Federation of Science Journalists president Milica Momcilovic; Cambridge Greek literature and culture professor Simon Goldhill; and Barcelona-based international financier and philanthropist Peter Kadas, whose Kadas Prize Foundation is the funding body.

The idea of the program is to “reward original thinking in response to contemporary societal issues.” Anyone 18 or older may enter, although a winner must write her or his resulting book (the Cambridge University Press connection) in English. In a particularly clarifying statement, the program writes:

“We are looking for innovative thinking, whether this comes from new voices or from experienced authors. The prize’s heartland is in the analysis of contemporary society and societal challenges, and we welcome responses that draw on all disciplines and cross-discipline thinking.

“Joint entries will be considered, although proposals that put forward a number of authors all contributing single sections (such as an edited collection) will not be accepted.”

Each prize cycle runs for two years, with a new question being announced every other October. The Kadas foundation “established to fund research into significant but neglected questions relevant to today’s world. Its main charitable activity is as a prize-awarding body, enabling Prize winners to further their work in the arts, humanities, sciences, and the social sciences to the benefit of the public.”

An entry is a 3,000-word response to the biennially issued question. The book that a winner then writes fleshes out that 3,000-word entry, but the program makes the point that winners “are asked to write a short book expanding on their ideas.”

As with several (but too few) of the award programs that hold the most promise and value in the publishing sphere–Michael Kelleher’s $US1.4 million Yale-based Windham-Campbell Prize comes most quickly to mind–the Nine Dots Prize, established in 2016, doesn’t burden the industry or culture with noisy rounds of longlists and shortlists and jury selections, and so on. In fact, it is anonymously juried.

This year’s win is the culmination of the program’s fourth cycle.

Joanna Kusiak’s Win

Kusiak, the winner of the Nine Dots, named today, is in fact based at Cambridge as a researcher and “scholar-activist” whose work “focuses on urban land, housing crises, and the progressive potential of law. In 2021 she was one of the spokespeople of Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen, Berlin’s successful referendum campaign to expropriate stock-listed landlords.”

Polish born, Kusiak work for the prize program is dedicated to the rule of law, which she says “promises that all people are free and equal, yet too often fails to deliver on its promise, getting entangled by power.”

In describing the book that she anticipates producing as a result of her win, she says, “My book, provisionally titled Radically Legal, showcases how social movements in Berlin and Warsaw work with the law to renew its emancipatory potential.

“My proposal was [a] work of love, and I feel elevated by winning the Nine Dots Prize. I am a scholar-activist, which means that I only engage with the topics that I believe are socially important.”

What prompted her winning response was this cycle’s question: “Why has the rule of law become so fragile.”

Needless to say, many may be interested in reading her book when it’s ready—as so many publishers find themselves working in markets today in which authoritarian dynamics are testing the durability of the rule of law.

The book is expected to touch on:

  • “The story of the Berlin movement and its daring attempt to take housing back from corporations, leveraging the German constitution
  • “The relationship between law and justice, and the misuse of the law by powerful forces including financial capitalism
  • “How Jungian psychoanalysis can reveal the rule of law’s ‘midlife crisis’, presenting politics as the ‘shadow’ of the law
  • “The tension between private law and Germany’s constitution, which protects fundamental rights over the needs of any economic system
  • “How radically legal tactics can redirect the conservative nature of the law towards a progressive future, achieving progressive change within and beyond the law
  • “Kusiak’s personal experience as a scholar-activist working in Berlin and Warsaw to contribute to the development of progressive social movements
  • “What Berlin could look like through deprivatizing housing – an inclusive vision of a livable city that unlocks creativity and freedom”

From the board, Runciman writes, “What’s so exciting about this proposal from a new voice is the way it mixes the urgency of contemporary politics with the complexity of recent history. Nowhere has the rule of law been subject to more violently different interpretations than in Berlin over the last century. This exploration of the fight over property rights in the city uses the past to illuminate the present and uses the present to suggest an alternative future. Not everyone will agree with what’s in this book, but it is sure to provoke fierce argument, which is what the Nine Dots Prize is for.”

The program reports that close to 600 potential books were submitted for this 2022-2023 round, and those entries came from more than 50 countries.

More from Publishing Perspectives on book and publishing awards programs is here, more on Cambridge University Press is here, and more on the Nine Dots Prize is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

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 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.

Leave a Comment