David W. Blight won the 2019 Plutarch Award for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Members of Biographers International Organization selected the winning book, which was announced on May 18, at the 10th Annual BIO Conference, held in conjunction with the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Blight’s book had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Francis Parkman Prize, among other honors.
After accepting the award from Plutarch Award Committee chair Megan Marshall, Blight, who edited new editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies, said he initially had no interest in writing a cradle-to-grave biography of the former slave-turned-abolitionist. Then, he came upon the collection of papers by and about Douglass held by Walter O. Evans, his subject’s great-great-grandson. That trove of material led to Blight’s writing the prize-winning biography, and he was the first historian to draw on those sources. Recounting his discovery of the material, Blight concluded his remarks by saying, “Never underestimate luck.”
The Plutarch Award Committee originally chose 10 semi-finalists before selecting four finalists for the 2019 prize. The other finalists were:
- Julie Dobrow, After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet
- Lindsey Hilsum, In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin
- Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny
You can see the complete list of this year’s semi-finalists and all past winners here.