William Collins has scooped a “vital” book by historian Dr Hannah Durkin documenting the lives of five of the last enslaved people to reach American soil, pre-empting the title within hours of submission.
Editorial director Shoaib Rokadiya bought UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to The Last Slaves: The Lost Stories of the Last Survivors of the American Slave Trade from Max Edwards at Aevitas Creative Management UK. Publication is scheduled for autumn 2022. North American rights were acquired in a "major" auction by Tracy Sherrod at Amistad.
The book tells the stories of the final survivors of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to land on US soil in July 1860—a full 52 years after a federal law banning the importation of slaves, and just nine months before the onset of the Civil War. They were not only the last survivors of the Clotilda, but the last documented survivors of any slave ship, and thus “the final act of an appalling, hugely significant, period in world history”.
The blurb explains: “Uncovering a crucial piece of American and global history, The Last Slaves will retrace each of their unique stories to shed light on the realities of slavery and its long, devastating reach into the 20th century and beyond. Drawing on almost a decade of work, Durkin interweaves archival and sociological research with historical narrative to offer key insights into the harsh realities that shaped the daily lives of African Americans, the enormous cultural impact of enslaved persons and their descendants, and the direct links between the burgeoning civil rights movement of the first half of the 20th century and these last survivors of the Middle Passage.”
Rokadiya said: “The Last Slaves is a ground-breaking, profoundly researched and immensely moving tour de force, which I hope will be read and discussed for years to come. I couldn’t be prouder to be working with Hannah to bring these unforgettable stories to life.”
Durkin added: “As we will hear first-hand from the men and women in this book, the transatlantic slave trade was an act of unimaginable cruelty and suffering whose traumatic legacies endured well into the 20th century. Yet, despite everything they went through, the Clotilda’s survivors were truly remarkable men and women. Everyone should know their stories. I’m so grateful to William Collins for ensuring that their voices can now finally be heard.”
Edwards commented: “The Last Slaves is one of those rare and wonderful times as an agent where you’re blown away at every stage—from Hannah’s initial research, our first meeting (by Zoom, of course), the words on the page, the enthusiasm from Shoaib and the William Collins team, and, most importantly, the incredible stories of these survivors. This is a vital book.”