Jennifer Homans Wins Biographers International’s Plutarch Award

In News by Porter Anderson

The Biographers International Organization’s 2023 Plutarch Award goes to Jennifer Homans’ biography of modern ballet icon George Balanchine.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Artu Nepomuceno

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

‘A Thrilling Narrative of Choreographic Innovation’
The winner of the Plutarch Award for 2022 (that’s not a typo) is Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century (Random House, 2022) by Jennifer Homans.

If you’re just catching up to the nonprofit Biographers International Organization, you may recall hearing recently that biographer Kitty Kelley has made a donation this spring of US$1 million to the nonprofit program behind this award, something announced in by the company on May 22.

The Plutarch is one of nine awards that the Biographers International Organization confers. At Publishing Perspectives, where we’re limiting book and publishing awards coverage—because it so easily crowds out more important news of trends and issues—we expect to cover only this one of nine prizes.

The Plutarch’s annual awards cycle recognizes work published in the previous year. So in June this year, organizers are announcing the Plutarch honoree for a 2022 release.

Nonfiction awards are among the best-paying in the vast field of bookish prizes, the Cundill History Prize, for example, paying US$75,000 to its winner and $10,000 to each of its two runners-up. The British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding pays £25,000 (US$31,118) to the winner of its honor. The Bailey Gifford Prize for Nonfiction also pays £25,000.

It’s surprising, then, that the Plutarch pays only $2,000 to its winner but part of this may have to do with the fact that eight other awards are part of the Biographers International program.

David: ‘Impeccable Research’

In honoring Homans for her work, the chair of this award’s committee, Deirdre David, is quoted, saying, “With impeccable research, Homans traces Balanchine’s life from joining the Imperial Ballet School in … St. Petersburg [Russia] at 9 years old to becoming in 1948 the co-founder (with Lincoln Kirstein) of the New York City Ballet.

“Drawing upon her experience as a trained dancer and her distinction as a ballet critic, Homans creates a thrilling narrative of choreographic innovation that was developed, displayed, and applauded in Russia, in Weimar Germany, in Paris, and eventually in New York. …

“Beautifully crafted, Homans’ gorgeous tribute to a 20th-century artistic genius enthralls, educates, and dazzles the reader.”

Indeed, Homans is landing her tour jeté at the edge of a deep pool of content on Balanchine (1904 to 1983). He’s one of the most frequently written about figures in modern ballet and that corps of Balanchine books includes Jennifer Dunning’s influential But First a School (Viking, 1985) about Balanchine’s founding of the School of American Ballet.

The 2023 Plutarch committee this year comprised David (chair), Roy Foster, Charlotte Jacobs, Tamara Payne, and Will Swift.

They considered more than 150 titles from the United States and United Kingdom. The Top 10 biographies were announced in January, followed by five finalists named in April.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the many book and publishing awards in the world industry is here, more on nonfiction is here, and more on biography is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

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 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.