Nandini Das Wins the £25,000 British Academy Prize

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‘Courting India’ by Nandini Das, an account of Sir Thomas Roe’s 17th-century mission to India, wins the British Academy Book Prize for Cultural Understanding.

Image: British Academy Book Prize

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

‘Getting People To Understand Each Other’
As the annual autumn avalanche of UK book prize news begins arriving, the University of Oxford’s Nandini Das has been named overnight in London the winner of the 2023 British Academy Book Prize for Cultural Understanding for her Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (Bloomsbury, March 16).

Das receives a purse of £25,000 (US$30,322) for her perspective on the arrival of the first English ambassador in India in the 17th century in a way that the competition’s organizers say, “moves us beyond a Eurocentric telling with an even-handed, entertaining tale.”

The jury chair, Charles Tripp, in providing the panel’s rationale, says, “Nandini Das has written the true origin story of Britain and India. By using contemporary sources by Indian and by British political figures, officials, and merchants, she has given the story an unparalleled immediacy that brings to life these early encounters and the misunderstandings that sometimes threatened to wreck the whole endeavor.

“At the same time, she grants us a privileged vantage point from which we can appreciate how a measure of mutual understanding did begin to emerge, even though it was vulnerable to the ups and downs of Mughal politics and to the restless ambitions of the British.

 “Through her beautiful writing and exceptional research, the jury was drawn to the contrast between an impoverished, insecure Britain and the flourishing, confident Mughal Empire and the often-amusing, sometimes querulous exchanges between their various representatives.

Charles Tripp

“Moreover, we were reminded through this story of the first ambassadorial mission of the value of international diplomacy, but also of the cultural minefields that surround it in ways that still have resonance today.”

Julia Black, the British Academy’s president, says, “This is British Academy’s 11th year of celebrating well-researched books that improve global cultural understanding.

Julia Black

“Every year, the need to understand each other across borders, boundaries and cultures seems ever more pressing. This year is no exception.

“The power of good writing and a well-told story in getting people to understand each other should not be underestimated. This book does just that, drawing on the best of the academic and the literary traditions to shed light on how we are today.”
The British Academy’s New Value: Impact Reports

As our readership knows, the British Academy joined the custom of the Booker Prize Foundation in September as it announced its shortlist and reported for the first time on the impact on sales that its honor has had on a winning book’s and author’s fortune.

The Chilean author Alia Trabucco Zerán’s When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold, a book translated by Sophie Hughes and published by the independent house And Other Stories, saw a sales uplift of 132 percent.

The book has been acquired by Netflix in association with the Chilean production company Fábula, and a feature film entitled La Homicida is to be released in 2024.

We look forward to further such valuable information from the Academy on the newly honored Das book in terms of how it makes its way in a sea of golden stickers following this award. When these indicators are reported, world publishing industry players be assured that so much awards attention—and its associated cost—is warranted.

The British Academy Prize Shortlist

Each of the shortlisted writers will receive £1,000 (US$1,211).

Title Author (and translator, where pertinent) Publisher and/or Imprint
Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution Tania Branigan Faber & Faber
Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire Nandini Das Bloomsbury Publishing
The Violence of Colonial Photography Daniel Foliard Manchester University Press
Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation Kris Manjapra Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World Irene Vallejo, translated by Charlotte Whittle Hachette / Hodder & Stoughton
Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living Dimitris Xygalatas Profile Books
Educated in Kolkata

Das is professor of early modern literature and culture in the English faculty at the University of Oxford.

Nandini Das

Raised in India, she was educated at the Jadavpur University in Kolkata, before moving to England.

Among other books, she is co-editor of The Cambridge History of Travel Writing. A BBC New Generation Thinker, she regularly presents television and radio programs, including Tales of Tudor Travel: The Explorer’s Handbook on BBC4.

The British Academy Book Prize, formerly known as the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize, was established in 2013, to reward and celebrate the best works of non-fiction that demonstrate rigor and originality, and have contributed to public understanding of other world cultures and their interaction.

The award’s jury this year comprises:

  • Charles Tripp (chair)
  • Madawi Al-Rasheed FBA, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics
  • Rebecca Earle FBA, food historian and professor of history at the University of Warwick
  • Fatima Manji, Channel 4 News broadcaster and journalist
  • Gary Younge Hon FBA, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book award programs is here, and on the British Academy Book Prize in its renamed iteration is here. More from us on the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize, the honor’s original iteration, 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.

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