Simon Parkin has been announced as the winner of this year’s Wingate Literary Prize for The Island of Extraordinary Captives (Sceptre).
On 13 July 1940, Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man was declared open. Home to around 1200 prisoners, by a twist of fate, their number included some of the most prominent and celebrated German and Austrian artists, musicians and academics of the day.
This community of eminent men was to change the life of orphan and aspiring artist Peter Fleischmann, whose powerful story is woven through the book.
Using exclusive new archive material, letters and diaries, The Island of Extraordinary Captives is the untold story of history’s most extraordinary prison camp.
Simon Parkin is an award-winning British writer and investigative journalist.
The winner was announced at an event at JW3, featuring the BBC’s Emily Kasriel in conversation with the judges and shortlisted authors.
Now in its 46th year, the annual prize, worth £4,000 and run in association with JW3, is awarded to the best book, fiction or non-fiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader. The Wingate Prize is the only UK literary prize of its kind and attracts nominations from all over the world. Previous winners include Amos Oz, Zadie Smith, Oliver Sacks, David Grossman and Nicole Krauss.
This year’s judging panel was comprised of the chair, Dr Aviva Dautch, Executive Director of Jewish Renaissance, Guggenheim Fellow and National Jewish Book Award winner, George Prochnik, journalist, editor and author, Sarah Shaffi and award winning author Julie Cohen.
Dr Aviva Dautch says:
‘All seven of the shortlisted books were exceptionally strong. The range of subjects and genres made choosing the winner very difficult, but we judges felt that The Island of Extraordinary Captives particularly fitted the criteria of the Wingate Prize to communicate lived Jewish experience to the general reader.
Simon Parkin’s well-researched and beautifully written book is a testament to how the Jewish refugees interned by the British as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Isle of Man during the Second World War, ‘turned a prison into a university, a camp into a cultural centre’.
In chronicling a story not widely discussed, yet starkly relevant to the current moment, Parkin exposes the many missteps made by a political and legal system inflamed by the populist anti-refugee sentiment, and how this resulted in locking up thousands of those escaping the Nazis alongside committed fascists.
This is both an ambitious and accomplished book. What made it stand out was how, in immaculate prose, carefully conceived, crafted and edited, Parkin uses literary techniques to make primary source material come alive. He weaves the stories of individuals, particularly artist Peter Fleischmann, through a detailed unpicking of the historical circumstances and the rising public awareness that the threat these incarcerated refugees posed had been badly misjudged.
We admired The Island of Extraordinary Captives for its serious intent, but most of all we responded to its humanity and ability to find joy in exploring how the internees used their culture and creativity to stay sane and even thrive in arduous circumstances’.
Press information: Anna Pallai anna@ampliterary,co.uk / 07971 496227
Follow the Wingate Literary Prize on Twitter @Wingateprize
Note to Editors
Julie Cohen is an award-winning, best-selling author of over 25 novels. She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Reading and a Vice President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a founder of their Rainbow Chapter for LGBTQ+ writers. Her latest novel is Summer People (August 2022, Orion). She lives in Berkshire, UK with her son and a terrier of dubious origin.
Dr Aviva Dautch is the Executive Director of Jewish Renaissance, the UK’s quarterly Jewish arts and culture magazine, and a lecturer on modern Jewish literature for LSJS and JW3. An award-winning poet, in 2021 she was Poet in Residence for the British Museum and the resident expert on BBC Radio 4’s ‘On Form’, a series exploring the current resurgence of formal poetry. Her most recent publication is a co-translation of The Eighth Crossing, a book-length poem by BBC World Service journalist Shrub Sirat about his refugee journey from Afghanistan to the UK (Exiled Writers Ink:2021).
George Prochnik was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in general non-fiction in 2021. His most recent book I Dream With Open Eyes: A Memoir About Reimagining Home was published in September 2022. He is the author of 5 previous books of nonfiction including Stranger in a Strange Land, which was the New York Times editors’ choice and was short-listed for the 2018 Wingate Literary Prize in the UK. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bookforum, The Literary Review and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is editor at large for Cabinet magazine.
Sarah Shaffi is a journalist, editor and author. She writes for publications including Guardian Books, The A V Club and The New Arab. Sarah has previously been a judge for the Costa Novel Award and the Jhalak Prize. She is author of the forthcoming children’s book South Asian Folktales, Myths and Legends. She can be found on Twitter @sarahshaffi.
The Wingate Literary Prize was established in 1977 by the late Harold Hyam Wingate. It is now run in association with JW3, the Jewish Cultural Centre. The winner receives £4,000.
The Harold Hyam Wingate Charitable Foundation is a grant-giving institution, established over forty years ago.
London-based JW3 is the only Jewish Arts and Community Centre of its kind in the UK – a vibrant hub for Jewish arts, culture, learning and life, where everyone is welcome. The award-winning building hosts a cafe, cinema, theatre space, classrooms and rehearsal space.