Yepoka Yeebo’s Anansi’s Gold: The Man Who Looted the West, Outfoxed Washington, and Swindled the World wins the 2024 BIO Plutarch Award

Biographers International Organization (BIO) is excited to announce that Yepoka Yeebo’s ANANSI’S GOLD: The Man Who Looted the West, Outfoxed Washington, and Swindled the World (Bloomsbury) is the winner of the 2024 Plutarch Award for the Best Biography of 2023. The Plutarch is the only international prize of its kind. Named after the famous Greek writer, the Plutarch is awarded to the best biography of the year by a committee of five distinguished biographers, and this prestigious prize comes with a $2,000 honorarium.In a captivating, genre-bending debut, Yepoka Yeebo reconstructs the strange life of John Ackah Blay-Miezah, a big, cigar-chomping flim-flam man from Ghana who masterminded one of the largest, longest-running con jobs the world has ever seen. Yeebo sets the stage in the tumultuous early days of independence from British colonialism, when most of Ghana’s considerable wealth was still held in London. When Ghana asked for its money, much of it had disappeared in bad investments. The scandal lodged in Blay-Miezah’s brain, where it morphed over time into a bold plan glued together with criminal intent. For years Blay-Miezah lived lavishly and outwitted his investors as well as Ghanaian governments, Swiss bankers, British businessmen, and the FBI. To research this brilliant study of human duplicity and greed, Yeebo sought obscure and far-flung sources. She found people willing to talk and documents that had survived war, fire, and rampages. Yeebo skillfully pulls back Blay-Miezah’s curtain of lies and fake identities to reveal how he charmed his victims out of millions. Wry, penetrating, and unfailingly entertaining, the book sits at the intersection of biography, history, and investigative journalism.
“Every one of the biographies that jostled for a place on our long and short lists of Plutarch finalists went beyond having an interesting subject and evidence of thorough research. Each tells its subject’s story with a distinct and trustworthy narrative voice,” said 2024 Plutarch Award Committee Chair Carol Sklenicka. “Such a voice emerges from a biographer’s self-confidence as an interpreter and from a carefully honed writing ability. In ANANSI’S GOLD: The Man Who Looted the West, Outfoxed Washington, and Swindled the World, Yepoka Yeebo’s voice holds our attention from first page to last. The image she projects of John Ackah Blay-Miezah and the worlds in which he operated is illuminating, cautionary, and unforgettable.”Yepoka Yeebo responded to news of her win, saying “I’m deeply honored to be the recipient of the 2024 Plutarch Award. I would like to thank the committee, and the Biographers International Organization, for their recognition of ANANSI’S GOLD. Writing about someone who isn’t a household name, in a place that isn’t familiar to many readers, and digging through a past full of misdirection and suppression can feel futile. I hope this award helps convince other writers, chasing lesser-known characters in unexpected places, that it’s worth the slog: that the beauty of what they do – of the most obscure aspects of their research – will be recognized.”

Yepoka Yeebo is a British-Ghanaian journalist whose work has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek, The Guardian, Quartz, and many other publications, and she has been interviewed on PRI’s The World and NPR’s All Things Considered. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism and the University of London, she divides her time between London, UK, and Accra, Ghana. ANANSI’S GOLD, her first book, was shortlisted for the 2024 Mark Lynton History Prize, featured as one of The New York Times Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2023”, and named a 2023 best book of the year by The New Yorker, Time, Slate, NPR, Newsweek, The Economist and more.

The 2024 Plutarch Committee consisted of five esteemed biographers: Carol Sklenicka (Chair), Patricia Albers, Vanda Krefft, William Souder, and Ethelene Whitmire. Together they considered over 150 titles from the US and UK. The top ten biographies were announced in January 2024 and from those were chosen the five finalists, announced in April.

The four other finalists were Jonathan Eig, KING: A Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Howard Fishman, TO ANYONE WHO EVER ASKS: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse (Dutton); Lisa M. Hamilton, THE HUNGRY SEASON: A Journey of War, Love, and Survival (Little, Brown); and Prudence Peiffer, THE SLIP: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever (Harper).

The five other books on the Plutarch longlist: Sally H. Jacobs, ALTHEA: The Life of Tennis Champion Althea Gibson (St. Martin’s Press); Larry Rohter, INTO THE AMAZON: The Life of Cândido Rondon, Trailblazing Explorer, Scientist, Statesman, and Conservationist (W.W. Norton & Company); Barbara D. Savage, MERZE TATE: The Global Odyssey of a Black Woman Scholar (Yale University Press); Willard Spiegelman, NOTHING STAYS PUT: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt (Alfred A. Knopf); and Jonny Steinberg, WINNIE AND NELSON: Portrait of a Marriage (Alfred A. Knopf).