Border by Kapka Kassabova wins Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018

30 Oct 2018

Kapka Kassabova is today, Tuesday 30 October, announced as the winner of the British Academy’s sixth Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018, for her book Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe.

Published by Granta Books, Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, is an exploration of the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece – a close study of how borders shape people’s lives. Kassabova returns to the land of her childhood, intricately weaving the individual stories of the people she meets there into the wider history of the region.

Kassabova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1973. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, she emigrated with her family to New Zealand in 1992, where she studied French and Russian Literature at university. In 2005 she moved to Edinburgh and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is a writer of poetry, fiction and narrative non-fiction.

The £25,000 prize was presented by chair of the jury and Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, Professor Ash Amin CBE FBA, at a ceremony at the British Academy in central London. Commenting on behalf of the jury he said:

“Kapka Kassabova has written an extraordinary book, an important contribution to the urgent debate about global cultural understanding. Border has an original, compelling narrative which explores the notion of the border, not just as a frontier but as a psychological and cultural dynamic. The book is a description of a meeting place between past and present, peoples, culture and nature, written in a mesmerising style, peopled with vivid characters and full of sharply drawn encounters. Border invests the theme of cultural understanding with a magical quality, mixing observation, biography and lyricism.”

Speaking on behalf of the British Academy, Chief Executive Alun Evans added:

“The British Academy proudly champions the humanities and social sciences, and these subjects’ power to illustrate and illuminate. Without well-researched, deeply knowledgeable books like this we cannot begin to get to grips with the important cultural challenges we all face in today’s world. We are delighted to award this year’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize to Kapka Kassabova.”

On publication, Border was met with critical acclaim. The Sunday Times called it a “smokily intense and quiveringly powerful travel book”.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times wrote: “Kassabova is a poet, and her writing is beautiful – moving and witty by turns... In a world ever more divided, ever more threatened by Mexican walls, restrictive new passports and fear of the unknown, we need books like this.”

Together with Professor Ash Amin, this year’s judges are historian and political scientist Rana Mitter FBA; social anthropologist Dame Henrietta Moore DBE FBA; writer and broadcaster Professor Patrick Wright FBA and writer Madeleine Bunting.

Alongside Kapka Kassabova, the five other books on this year’s shortlist were: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue, (The Bodley Head); Al-Britannia: A Journey Through Muslim Britain by James Fergusson, (Bantam Press); Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann, (Oneworld); I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet, (Virago) and Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Dame Anne Salmond (Auckland University Press).

The British Academy’s prestigious international prize was established in 2013 to reward and celebrate the best works of non-fiction that demonstrate rigour and originality, have contributed to global cultural understanding and illuminate the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide.

The last three winners were Timothy Garton Ash for Free Speech (2017), Professor Carole Hillenbrand for Islam: A New Historical Introduction (2016), and Dr Neil MacGregor for A History of the World in 100 Objects and Germany: Memories of a Nation (2015).

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Notes to editors

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Kapka Kassabova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is the author of several poetry collections, numerous travel essays, the novel Villa Pacifica (2011), and the acclaimed memoirs Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (2008) and Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story (2011). She has written for the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Vogue, and 1843 magazine.

Border was named the 2017 Saltire Society Book of the Year and Saltire Society Non-Fiction Book of the Year. It won the 2017 Edward Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year as well as the inaugural Highland Book Prize.

About the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize

The Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding was first awarded in 2013.

To be eligible for entry, books must be works of non-fiction published in the two years since 1 March 2016. Authors may be of any nationality, based anywhere in the world and working in any language provided that the nominated work is available in the English language. 

Nominations are invited from publishers, Fellows of the British Academy and, for the first time this year, by open call.

A shortlist for the Prize was introduced for the first time in 2018.

Prof. Nayef Al-Rodhan is a neuro-philosopher, neuroscientist, geostrategist, and author. In 2014, he was voted one of the top 30 most influential neuroscientists in the world. In 2017, he was named amongst the Geopolitics Top 100 in the world.

Follow Nayef Al-Rodhan on Twitter @SustainHistory

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