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UK author Johny Pitts wins Leipzig Book Award

December 9, 2020

The Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding, one of the most important awards in Germany, honors Pitts' "Afropean: Notes from Black Europe."

Author Johny Pitts
Author Johny PittsImage: Jamie Stoker/Penguin/Suhrkamp Verlag

British television presenter, writer and photographer Johny Pitts has won the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding 2021 for Afropean: Notes from Black Europe, the city of Leipzig announced on Tuesday.

Pitts' book combines reportage and essays and aims show "the everyday Black experience, and tries to normalize rather than exoticize Blackness in Europe," he told DW's Arts.21. 

Book cover: Afropäisch. Eine Reise durch das schwarze Europa by Johny Pitts
The book was translated into German by Helmut Dierlamm

A search for an Afropean identity

The son of a working-class mother from Sheffield and an African American soul singer from New York, Pitts documents in Afropean his search for a European post-colonial identity. 

He traveled around the metropolises of the continent — a journey including an exploration of James Baldwin's Paris, a meeting with Ghanaian Rastafarians in Berlin and a visit to the former Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. Alongside depictions of the everyday lives of musicians, activists, restaurant owners and simple workers, Pitts weaves in stories of Afropean writers like Dumas the Elder and Pushkin throughout the book.

The term Afropean is gaining popularity among Europe's Black diaspora, as it "can explain a kind of pluralism in a single word," says Pitts, who calls for teaching colonialism in schools to develop a better understanding of the structural injustices still in place today.

"When I'm criticizing Europe, I want Europe to be a better place," he says.

The Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding

First awarded in 1994, the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding is one of the most important literary awards in Germany. It is endowed with €20,000 ($24,210).

Last year's winner was Russian-American journalist, author, translator and activist Masha Gessen.

The prize is to be handed out at the opening of the Leipzig Book Fair on May 26, 2021. The fair usually takes place in March, but has been delayed due to the pandemic.

Afropean: In search of identity

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture