Dr Jay Prosser wins Hazel Rowley Prize for breakthrough biography

Our course leader for MA Creative Writing and Critical Life has been recognised with a prestigious award from the Biographers' International Organization.

Dr Jay Prosser is the 2020 recipient of The Rowley Prize for his extensive family biography Empire’s Loving Strangers: Journeys Through an Asian-Jewish Camphorwood Chest.

The work, currently in pre-production, is an unfamiliar story of Jewishness across the wide canvas of Asia — from Iraq to India, Singapore and China — focusing on the individual lives and unique encounters of generations of his Jewish-Asian family.

The remarkable biography unravels his family’s many stories, drawn from the contents of a camphor-wood chest that his mother brought when migrating from Singapore to England. The treasure-trove revealed a different picture of empire, told by the ruled and not the rulers — empire as the catalyst of encounters and intimacies between far-flung strangers.

The main challenge for me is how to get the right balance of research and story: how much, and how, to include the techniques that make me a humanities scholar (critical insight, historical contextualization, cultural analysis), while not detracting from the engaging story that every biography needs to be at the end of the day.

Dr Jay Prosser, School of English

As winner of The Rowley Prize, Dr Prosser will receive funding, a reading from an established agent, a year’s membership in the Biographers' International Organization, and publicity for the project.

Read Carla Kaplan’s extensive interview with Dr Prosser at the Biographers' International Organization website.

Dr Prosser is programme leader for MA Creative Writing and Critical Life in the School of English.