The 62nd annual Francis Parkman Prize is awarded to David W. Blight for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster).
Blight has written a biography of a “radical patriot,” who was both a fierce critic of his country and an ardent proponent of its values. This sweeping biography of one of the most complex figures in American history seems destined to be a classic of the genre.
Blight has used one of the great figures of the nineteenth-century United States to illuminate some of the tumultuous years of American history. Through Douglass we glimpse the country at its best and its worst. To follow Douglass is to examine the complexities–and horrors–of race in the American past.
In crafting a complicated book about a complicated man, Blight examines Douglass as an intellectual, a writer, an editor, a politician, a reformer, a husband, and a father. He makes him both visionary and very much a man of his times. Blight treats Douglass with empathy and respect, but he is a historian, not a hagiographer. In his various autobiographical writings Frederick Douglass worked very hard to shape his life story, and Blight wrestles with the literary Douglass to reveal things Douglass preferred to have concealed. This is, among many other things, a writer’s book about a writer.
Blight has also rescued Douglass from the reductionist, simplistic, and ideological uses to which he has sometimes been put. Wonderfully written, thoughtful, compelling, and deeply researched, the book embodies the kind of writing and scholarship which the Francis Parkman Prize was created to honor.
David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University and the Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center.