Laura Beers, associate professor of history, has won the Stansky Book Prize for her book, Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist (Harvard University Press, 2016).
The Stansky Prize is awarded annually by the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS) for the best book published anywhere by a North American scholar on any aspect of British studies since 1800. This year’s award was announced at the annual NACBS meeting in Denver, Colorado, earlier this month.
Red Ellen chronicles the life of Ellen Wilkinson, who helped establish Britain’s Communist Party, earned a seat in Parliament, and became a renowned advocate for the poor and dispossessed at home and abroad. She was one of the first female delegates to the United Nations, and she played a central role in Britain’s postwar Labour government.
In awarding the prize, NACBS said that Beers wrote the biography that Red Ellen Wilkinson deserves. “Fine biographies are portraits of their subjects’ social and physical world. Beers has produced one that is not only gracefully written and thoroughly researched, but also very wide in its political and geographical scope.”
Beers said that researching and writing the book was a true labor of love. “I set out both to tell the story of Wilkinson’s life and to use that life to illuminate a lost world of early twentieth century cosmopolitan radicalism of which she was a key part, and am honored that the NACBS felt that the book has succeeded so well in accomplishing those aims.”
In all, Red Ellen was the product of eight years of work, which Beers started before she joined AU in 2009. “I’ve had several fellowships that took me away from Washington, and which enabled Ellen’s completion, but much of it was written at American University, which provided key financial and intellectual support for the project,” she explains.
The committee commended Beers for overcoming an additional challenge: Wilkinson’s private papers had been burned after her death. “Beers brings her to life through her comprehensive and imaginative use of a remarkable range of sources which include Wilkinson’s revealing autobiographical novel Clash and an earlier biographer’s archived interviews with Ellen’s friends.”
“Beers’s full grasp and graceful way of summarizing the issues Wilkinson encountered, however, has led to a compelling narrative that is always clear and engaging,” wrote the committee. “Red Ellen is sure to be standard work in twentieth-century British history.”