Violet Moller, Afua Hirsch and Damian Le Bas have won 2016's RSL Jerwood Awards for Non-Fiction.
The awards consist of one £10,000 prize and two of £5,000 and are for authors engaged on their first commissioned works of non-fiction. They were presented at an an event held at John Murray’s house in London, judged by Afro-Guyanese playwright, poet and children's writer John Agard, Exeter lecturer andYoung Romantics author Daisy Hay, and writer and academic Laurence Scott.
Moller took the £10,000 award for The Geography of Knowledge (Pan Macmillan, 2018), an exploration of how the big ideas of the ancient world found their way into Western culture from 8th century Baghdad to Renaissance Venice. Scott commended it for the way it traces "the beautiful legacy of philosophical exchange between the Middle East and Europe", and Agard further likened it to "an epic treasure hunt into the highways and byways of stored knowledge across faiths and continents". In Hay’s view it "promises to be an exceptionally bold and important book".
Moller, from Buckinghamshire, said: "I am over the moon to receive an RSL Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction. It is a great and unexpected honour. It will open up thrilling possibilities for my research."
The two £5,000 prizes went to Hirsch for BRIT(ish): Getting Under the Skin of Britain’s Race Problem (Cape, 2018), a book that makes a case for change, and to native Romani speaker Le Bas for his traveller history Stopping Places (Chatto, 2018).
Of Hirsch's timely book, which looks at Britain’s failure to allow non-white people a history, Hay said it felt "there could hardly be a historical moment more in need of a book like BRIT(ish) than our own’".
Stopping Places (Chatto, 2018) was meanwhile praised "an erudite and complex account of Britain’s Traveller culture" by Scott, and "a multi-faceted approach to an often sidelined community" by Agard.
Hirsch, a broadcaster and journalist, said the win was "a really meaningful boost to my confidence as a first-time author" and Le Bas, a Theology graduate, commented, "It’s immensely heartening to know that the judges share my belief in the book, especially given the calibre of books that have received RSL Jerwood Awards in the past".