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Jesus academic wins £35,000 grant to develop non-fiction book

Dr Mathelinda Nabugodi is one of nine recipients of a $40,000 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, which aims to help gifted writers bring their books to life.

The programme is intended for multi-year book projects as they reach a crucial point mid-process, after significant work has been accomplished but when an extra infusion of support can make a critical difference in the ultimate shape and quality of the work.

Mathelinda’s book, The Trembling Hand: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive is a critical memoir around a series of encounters with objects that once belonged to the Romantic poets but now linger in the secretive confines of the archive: Wordsworth’s teacup, Byron’s carnival mask, Shelley’s yellow kidskin glove and the like. These objects reveal how the poets’ lives were embedded in a global economy fuelled by slavery and exploitation.

The judges commented: “Mathelinda Nabugodi dazzles with her originality of approach in this exhilarating tour de force, opening new ways of seeing and reading. A scholar of the highest calibre, she uses archival treasures – a teacup, a baby's rattle, a necklace made of human hair – to reframe the dusty portraits of the Romantic poets in relation to what has been termed the ‘racial capitalism’ of chattel slavery, the engine of their 18th-century Atlantic world. Her own story provides sparkling grace notes as she delves into the influence of the slave trade on a literary tradition associated with personal and political freedom, and among this project’s most moving moments is Nabugodi’s reckoning with the limits and possibilities of writing herself into this lineage.”

Dr Nabugodi said: "I am delighted and honoured to be one of this year's Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grantees. Researching this book, I've spent quite a lot of time in archives studying some truly abhorrent writings from the Romantic period, which has often led me to question the purpose of unearthing these vile materials. The Whiting Grant therefore feels like a massive vote of confidence in the project, proving that there are readers out there willing to enter those archives with me."

An extract of Dr Nabugodi’s work is available here.

Mathelinda Nabugodi is a Postdoctoral Associate at Jesus College, and a Research Associate in the Literary and Artistic Archive at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. She was the first to be awarded a PhD in Creative Critical Writing from University College London, for a thesis on Percy Bysshe Shelley and Walter Benjamin. She has edited Shelley’s translations from Aeschylus, Calderón, and Goethe for The Poems of Shelley as well as the essay collection Thinking Through Relation: Encounters in Creative Critical Writing.