‘Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands’ by Hazel V. Carby wins the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding

27 Oct 2020

Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands by Hazel V. Carby is today named as the winner of the eighth Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the British Academy’s non-fiction book prize. The announcement was made during an online celebration hosted by the British Academy.

Professor Hazel V. Carby, who for three decades taught African-American studies at Yale University, grew up in South London, the daughter of a white working-class mother from Wales and a father who was recruited from Jamaica to serve in the RAF during the Second World War. In Imperial Intimacies, published by Verso, Carby weaves the history of her family into the history of Britain and Jamaica as it was shaped under the British Empire.

In this steely, revealing and also deeply moving historical analysis, Carby shares her memories of growing up in post-war Britain and explores the interconnection between the “two islands” using official archives and remembered family lore as her sources and travelling to the places connected to her past. The jury was impressed with her ability to combine in an original way a highly personal story with the rigorous academic study that the prize traditionally rewards.

Commenting on behalf of the jury, chair Professor Patrick Wright FBA, Emeritus Professor of Literature and History at King’s College and Fellow of the British Academy, said:

"This is a beautifully achieved demonstration of what can happen when the child of a mixed-race family takes her memories of growing up in post-war England and Wales and treats them as the basis for an exploration of the history that made that experience and continued to weigh so heavily upon everyone involved.

"Imperial Intimacies reveals so much that should be remembered about the British Empire: the extent to which it shaped Britain and its attitudes, its cruelties and the opportunities it offered even to poor Britons looking to improve their situation at the expense of their slaves or indentured workers.

"It is exceptional both in the tenacity with which Carby builds up historical worlds to give reality to ancestors only remembered as names, and in the way she manages to convert pain into understanding without becoming reconciled to the attitudes and circumstances that cramped her parents lives and, to an extent, continue to exist in the present."

Professor Sir David Cannadine, Historian and President of the British Academy added:

"This prize, which is generously supported by Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan, celebrates the role of non-fiction literature in illuminating new perspectives on global history and enlivening our understanding of cultural identity and difference. This book, examining the legacies of British imperialism both here and in the island of Jamaica, could not be more timely nor more important.

"On behalf of the British Academy, it is my honour to congratulate Professor Carby for this significant, scholarly contribution to global cultural understanding."

Imperial Intimacies is Hazel V. Carby’s fourth book. She is a co-author of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain and author of Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America, Race Men, and Reconstructing Womanhood.

Professor Patrick Wright FBA was joined on the jury by Channel 4 News presenter, Fatima Manji; Professor Rana Mitter FBA, historian and political scientist; Professor Dame Henrietta Moore FBA, social anthropologist; and writer Madeleine Bunting.

Imperial Intimacies was chosen from a shortlist of five books that included: Insurgent Empire – Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal (Verso); Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale University Press); The Reinvention of Humanity: A Story of Race, Sex, Gender and the Discovery of Culture by Charles King (The Bodley Head), and All Our Relations: Indigenous Trauma in the Shadow of Colonialism by Tanya Talaga (Scribe).

The Nayef Al-Rodhan 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 four winners were Toby Green for A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the rise of the slave trade to the age of revolution (2019); Kapka Kassabova for Border A Journey to the Edge of Europe (2018); Timothy Garton Ash for Free Speech (2017) and Professor Carole Hillenbrand for Islam: A New Historical Introduction (2016).

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