Jennifer Homans’ ‘Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century’ wins the 2023 BIO Plutarch Award
Jennifer Homans’ Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century (Random House) is the winner of the 2023 Plutarch Award for the Best Biography of 2022. 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.
“For the Plutarch judges, Jennifer Homans’ magnificent biography of the choreographer George Balanchine presented a perfect model of seamless narrative integration of the life with the work,” says 2023 Plutarch Award Committee Chair Deirdre David. “With impeccable research, Homans traces Balanchine’s life from joining the Imperial Ballet School in Revolutionary St. Petersburg at nine years old to becoming in 1948 the co-founder (with Lincoln Kirstein) of the New York City Ballet. Drawing upon her experience as a trained dancer and her distinction as a ballet critic, Homans creates a thrilling narrative of choreographic innovation that was developed, displayed, and applauded in Russia, in Weimar Germany, in Paris, and eventually in New York. As she puts it, ‘his entire life was ballet’: the women he loved (and there were many), the music he chose, the dancers he worked with, his ‘keen sensuality,’ all served the world of ballet. Beautifully crafted, Homans’ gorgeous tribute to a twentieth-century artistic genius enthralls, educates, and dazzles the reader.”
Jennifer Homans responded to news of her win, saying “I couldn’t be more honored and thrilled by this recognition for Mr. B, especially since it comes from writers who know what it is to attempt to capture a life that is not your own.”
Homans is the dance critic for The New Yorker and a former dancer herself who trained at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. She spent more than a decade researching Balanchine’s life and times to write a vast history of the twentieth century through the lens of one of the its greatest artists. Mr. B was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award and was selected as a best book of the year by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Oprah Daily, and NPR.
The 2023 Plutarch Committee consisted of five esteemed biographers: Deirdre David (chair), Roy Foster, Charlotte Jacobs, Tamara Payne, and Will Swift. Together they considered over 150 titles from the US and UK. The top ten biographies were announced in January 2023 and from those were chosen the five finalists, announced in April.
The five finalists: Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century (Viking); Jennifer Homans, Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century (Random House); Jon Meacham, And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle (Random House); Jane Ridley, George V: Never a Dull Moment (Harper Collins); and Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
The five semi-finalists: Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (Pantheon Books); John A. Farrell, Ted Kennedy: A Life (Penguin Press); Paul Fisher, The Grand Affair: John Singer Sargent in His World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Stacy Schiff, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (Little, Brown and Company); and Miranda Seymour, I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys (W.W. Norton).