Pola Oloixarac and Imaobong Umoren named Writer’s Award winners

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.”