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OUP title wins Pulitzer Prize for second consecutive year

OUP title wins Pulitzer Prize for second consecutive year

10 May 2020

We are delighted that OUP title Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel is the winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in History, marking the second consecutive year an OUP book has won this prestigious award.

Sweet Taste of Liberty published in September 2019 to exceptional critical reception and went on to win the 2020 Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians and be named a finalist for the 2020 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize. It tells the story of the enslaved Henrietta Wood and her quest for justice, illuminating today’s debates over reparations and offering a searing reminder that the American public has still not come to terms with the consequences of slavery. In their citation, the Pulitzer committee describe the book as ‘a masterfully researched meditation on reparations based on the remarkable story of a 19th century woman who survived kidnapping and re-enslavement to sue her captor.’

Author McDaniel, who is also Associate Professor of History at Rice University, commented: ‘I’m extraordinarily grateful that the Pulitzer Board recognized Henrietta Wood’s story as a significant chapter in American history. This book was definitely a collective effort made possible by the many historians, archivists, descendants, and staff at OUP who helped bring her story to light.’

Sharing reflections on how the book came to be, OUP editor Tim Bent added: ‘Writing (and editing) this book meant recreating a life from fragments. Almost as big a miracle as ex-slave Henrietta Wood’s successful suit for reparations against the former slaver and prison warden Zebulon Ward was finding the records in which it was documented. At some point the case file had been mislabeled and placed in a wrong box. The archivist had opened it as a last resort and caught a glimpse of the names of Wood and Ward. As Caleb remembers it, the archivist “ran a vacuum cleaner over the soiled files, clearing away decades of dust and flakes of brittle paper. The name ‘Henrietta’ materialized before our eyes.” To my mind, this story, which Caleb recounts in the epilogue, encapsulates both the accomplishment and the miracle of his book.’