The political is personal, the personal is political
Shortlist announced for
The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2016
– Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, alongside a writer previously shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
– An international list with British, American and Belarusian authors, with one work in translation
The shortlist for the £30,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced today, Monday 17 October.
The four titles on this year’s shortlist are:
– Second-hand Time, Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
– Negroland: A Memoir, Margo Jefferson (Granta Books)
– The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between, Hisham Matar (Viking)
– East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The titles chosen by the judges all interrogate rigorously the world around us, with particular focus on how individual lives are informed and shaped by social, political and historical forces.
Broader studies of moments in history are grounded in deeply personal narratives. Margo Jefferson’s Negroland: A Memoir chronicles the experience of growing up in Chicago’s black elite in the 1960s and 70s ‘sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty’. Jefferson explores this space at a time of great change for race and gender relations in America.
Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexeivich’s Second-hand Time (translated by Bela Shayevich) also uses personal testimony to evoke a particular time and place. Her book is a polyphonic collage that reveals what life in the USSR was like just prior to its collapse, charting the disappearance of an entire world.
They are joined on the shortlist by Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, in which historical, legal and familial narratives are woven together to reveal the origins of international law, beginning and ending with the last day of the Nuremberg trial.
Family is at the heart of Hisham Matar’s shortlisted title, too. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between sees Matar return to his home country of Libya following the fall of Gaddafi. Twenty-two years earlier, the regime kidnapped and imprisoned Matar’s father, who he would never see again. It is a profound account of how love and loss both shape and deform an individual life.
Stephanie Flanders, Chair of the Judges, comments:
“Some shortlists are creatures of compromise. You end up with a list that everyone can live with, rather than a set of titles that each judge can wholeheartedly endorse. But I’m delighted to say there was no need for messy compromises this year – or even much debate. Of the many superb books on the long list, these are the four books that each of us would be happy so see win.
“If they have anything in common it is perhaps the emphasis on the first person – and first-hand reporting. There are voices and stories in these books that we haven’t heard before and which are going to stay with me for a very long time.”
The shortlist has been chosen by a panel chaired by former BBC Economics Editor, Stephanie Flanders, together with Philip Ball, science writer and author; Jonathan Derbyshire, executive comment editor of the Financial Times; Dr Sophie Ratcliffe, scholar, writer and literary critic and Rohan Silva, co-founder of the social enterprise, Second Home.
The winner of this year’s award will be announced on Tuesday 15 November, at a dinner supported by a donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation. The winner of last year’s prize was Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman.
Sarah Whitley, Partner of Baillie Gifford and Chair of its Sponsorship Committee, adds:
“We are delighted to have begun our long-term relationship with the Prize. We recognise the difficult choices the judges have had to make in refining this shortlist from the excellent group of longlisted authors. The topics tackled by the short listed authors are wonderfully varied in their nature and locations.”