The novelist Pola Oloixarac and historian Imaobong Umoren have been named as the 2021 winners of the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award.
Oloixarac and Umoren are each awarded £20,000 and a year’s residency with the British Library to develop their forthcoming books, with the opportunity to present their work at future Hay Festival events in the UK and Latin America upon publication.
The winners were selected from a six-strong shortlist of writers from across Europe and Latin America. The shortlist comprised fiction and non-fiction storytelling relating to the Americas a diverse range of subjects: from the impact of the climate crisis on indigenous communities, women and the natural world to war, medical history and the legacy of colonialism. The 2021 Award saw a record number of submissions.
The 2021 judging panel consisted of Mercedes Aguirre, Lead Curator of American collections at the British Library; Catherine Eccles, Director of literary scouting agency Eccles Fisher Associates; Cristina Fuentes La Roche, International Director at Hay Festival; Cara Rodway, Acting Head of the Eccles Centre at the British Library; and Erica Wagner, writer and 2014 Writer’s Award winner for her book Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge.
Submissions for the 2022 Writer’s Award will open next summer. For more information, visit www.bl.uk/writers-award.
About the winners
Pola Oloixarac is an Argentinian novelist and author of the opera libretto Hercules in Mato Grosso. Her work has been translated in nine languages. Oloixarac wins the Writer’s Award for her first work of non-fiction, to be published by Penguin Random House. Atlas Literario del Amazonas (Literary Atlas of the Amazon) will reveal the secret history of the Amazon as a region of the world and the people, ideas and stories within it that have remained unexplored.
The judging panel commented: “Pola Oloixarac's proposal of a literary atlas of the Amazon is truly captivating and ambitious. The atlas is envisaged as an encyclopaedia where each entry (sky, spruce, seed...) will invite us on a journey to show the complexity of the transcendent landscape of Amazonian communities, and to link it to the stories of the present, the past and the future. A project like this will enormously benefit from up-close access to the British Library’s vast Americas collection.”
Imaobong Umoren is Assistant Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she teaches Caribbean history. She is selected for her forthcoming book Empire Without End: A New History of Britain and the Caribbean, an expansive new history of the four hundred year relationship between Britain and the Caribbean, which will argue that the Caribbean was the birth-place of a racial caste system that shaped both nations and continues to be influential today. Empire Without End will be published by Jonathan Cape.
The judging panel commented: “Imaobong Umoren’s submission bursts myths that the British Empire is over and considers whether Britain will ever atone for colonialism and neo-colonialism. This is a work of great scope and ambition, weaving together the history and politics of the past and present, while also considering the future. We cannot imagine a better moment for this book to be written.”
Notes to Editors
Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award
The British Library is collaborating with Hay Festival to facilitate and inspire a new wave of world-class storytelling in the UK and across the Americas. Beginning in 2020, the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award will support writers in the creative stages of a new project through a £20,000 prize and a year-long residency at the British Library granting up-close access to the Americas collections as well as curatorial expertise. Winners will have the opportunity to share their published work with international audiences via the new Eccles Centre Platform, hosted by Hay Festivals worldwide. The Award is open to submissions for writing projects of both fiction and non-fiction relating to North, Central, South America and the Caribbean, and due for publication in English, Spanish or any language indigenous to the Americas.
The Eccles Centre for American Studies promotes the British Library's North American collections and supports the study of North America in schools and universities. The Centre was founded by David and Mary Eccles in 1991 and is based at the British Library. The Centre works closely with the Library’s curatorial teams to promote awareness of the United States, Canadian and Caribbean collections and offers programmes of financial support for researchers. The Centre also collaborates closely with members of the American, Canadian and Caribbean Studies communities in the UK, and with other partners interested in the advancement of knowledge about North America. It hosts numerous events each year, and its lively and diverse programme includes lectures, discussion panels, conferences, concerts and seminars aimed at academics, university students, school pupils, creatives and the general public.
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.
Hay Festival is a not-for-profit organisation that brings readers and writers together to share stories and ideas in sustainable events around the world and online. The festivals inspire, examine and entertain, inviting participants to imagine the world as it is and as it might be. Nobel Prize-winners and novelists, scientists and politicians, historians and musicians talk with audiences in a dynamic exchange of ideas. The Festival’s global conversation shares the latest thinking in the arts and sciences with curious audiences live, in print and online. Upcoming editions include Hay Festival Digital Winter Weekend (26-29 November); Hay Festival Digital Medellín & Cartagena, Colombia (January 2021); Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye, Wales (27 May-6 June 2021); Hay Festival Segovia, Spain (September 2021); Hay Festival Querétaro, Mexico (September 2021); and Hay Festival Digital Arequipa, Peru (November 2021).