John Murray imprint Basic Books UK has pre-empted Doorway to the World: 15 Ports that Built Empires Through Slavery, a “sweepingly magisterial” history by Professor Olivette Otele.
Publishing director Sarah Caro acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Georgina Capel at Georgina Capel Associates, in a joint pre-empt that saw US rights sold to Lara Heimert at Basic Books US. German rights have already been sold to Rowohlt. Doorway to the World: is set to be published in spring 2025.
The book tells the story of 15 ports ranging from Amsterdam to Bristol, and the Bight of Biafra to the Virgin Islands, each one closely associated with five centuries of exploration, slave trading and empire building.
The synopsis explains: “Each port is used to illustrate a different aspect of this inheritance using the personal stories of ordinary and extraordinary individuals to illustrate the profound social and cultural transformations that arose as a result of economic development. Challenging the way history is usually told, Doorway to the World offers an alternative to the traditional narrative of the rise and fall of the European seafaring empires focusing not on those who ruled the waves, but on those who enabled them, willingly or unwillingly. The sailors, navigators, cordwainers, innkeepers, prostitutes, translators, merchants, slave traders, provisioners, boat builders, accountants and settlers who kept the whole enterprise afloat. In the course of this sweepingly magisterial history Otele also explores issues of race, gender, inequality as well as resilience, creativity and adaptability.”
Otele is professor of history of slavery and memory of enslavement at the University of Bristol. She is a fellow and a vice-president of the Royal Historical Society and holds a PhD in History from Université Paris, La Sorbonne. Otele is also a regular contributor to the press, television and radio programmes including the BBC, Sky News and the Guardian. Her most recent book was the monograph, African Europeans: An Untold History published by Hurst in the UK and Basic Books in the US in 2020.
She said: “'What pulls us apart can also connect us and challenge our assumptions about narratives of the past. I wanted to tell vibrant, beautiful and painful histories of people, places and events associated with ports and enslavement. Sarah Caro and Lara Heimert at Basic Books are providing me with the incredible opportunity to bring vast threads of our past together. I am absolutely elated to work on this incredible project.”
Caro added: “Olivette is a star. She’s an author I have wanted to have on the Basic UK list from the very beginning because she embodies the perfect combination of scholarly rigor, public engagement, humanity and warmth. I feel thrilled and greatly privileged to be working with one of the most exciting and original voices to have emerged in the UK today. Olivette has a great gift for explaining our past in a way that illuminates our present. There is a buzz and excitement about this project that I have rarely felt before. Everyone on both sides of the Atlantic is delighted to be welcoming Olivette back to the Basic list.”