Olusoga scoops PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize

Olusoga scoops PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize

David Olusoga has won the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2017 for Black and British: A Forgotten History (Macmillan).

The £2,000 prize administered by English PEN celebrates the best non-fiction on any historical subject and Olusoga’s book re-examines the relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean. The title was also shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize and longlisted for the Orwell Prize and was accompanied by a four-part BBC Two television series, in 2016. 

The broadcaster and presenter was revealed as the winner on Sunday (9th July) at the inaugural Wimpole History Festival at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, a collaboration between the National Trust and the Cambridge Literary Festival. Olusoga was shortlisted alongside Sarah Bakewell, Jerry Brotton, Susan L Carruthers, Dan Cruickshank, Frank Dikötter and Tim Whitmarsh.

Professor Jean Seaton, chair of the judges, declared the winning title a “tremendous achievement”. She said: “David Olusoga's Black and British: a Forgotten History is a wonderful read, but it won because it was so surprising. It discovers unexpected stories of black people in Britain, but it is as much about the ebb and flow of how the British have made that story (sometimes negatively, sometimes positively) part of the national narrative.”

She added: “Above all, this story – sometimes shaming and chilling, but equally inspiring and strange – is told with a great calm and curiosity. The tone invites us all to reflect and become part of the reassessment. It is a tremendous achievement.”

Olusoga said: “It has been a bizarre and wonderful experience, to get all these other people's histories and experiences, and weave them together - with my own very personal stories, but also with a bigger story of this country. No group – no ethnic group, no political group – owns any part of history. It’s all of ours, and ours to conquer, and subdue, to make us go crazy.”

The judging panel was chaired this year by Seaton, with critic and historian Frances Stonor Saunders and Nicholas Stargardt who won the 2016 winner of the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 (The Bodley Head).

The shortlist was revealed last month and heralded by the judges as "an 'antidote to the irrationalism of post-truth politics".

Bakewell was nominated for At The Existentialist Café (Chatto & Windus), about Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron in Paris in 1933 while Brotton was shortlisted for This Orient Isle (Allen Lane) which explores Elizabethan England and the Islamic World.

Pitted against these titles was Carruthers' The Good Occupation (Harvard University Press), about America's transition from wartime combatant to postwar occupier and Cruickshank's Spitalfields (Random House Books), which explains how Spitalfields' streets evolved from Roman times to the present day.  

Dikötter’s The Cultural Revolution (Bloomsbury) was also nominated for its exploration of the last years of Mao’s regime alongside Whitmarsh for his book about the origins of atheism in the ancient world, Battling the Gods (Faber & Faber).

Pan Macmillan announced last month it had acquired two history books from Olusoga: a new history of empire and a landmark history of slavery in the Islamic world, slated for publication in 2018 and 2020 respectively.