Inaugural Verso Prize for Cultural and Critical Studies awarded for bold, original work

Project explores the question of whether human extinction, in the context of the Anthropocene, can be thought and mapped

Independent, radical publishing house Verso Books have this year sponsored a new prize for the top student graduating from Birkbeck’s MA Cultural and Critical Studies. The inaugural prize has been awarded to student Neil Fitzgerald, for submitted work that was described as “truly exceptional” by Dr Tracey Potts (University of Nottingham), the external examiner, who continued: “The dissertation is especially noteworthy and is possibly the best I have read in my career. By turns, bold, original, informed, and beautifully written, the project explores the question of whether human extinction, in the context of the Anthropocene, can be thought and mapped, forging in the process a speculative aesthetics to render sensible what is determined as a ‘supersensible event’. I read it bolt upright and was gripped from beginning to end. What is all the more remarkable, is the scope and scale of the research which moves deftly between Chauvet cave art to films such as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar via Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Run and Van Gogh’s peasant shoe paintings. The theoretical framing, likewise, is impressive and never heavy handed.”

On learning of the award, Neil said: “I was dumbstruck to learn I had won the inaugural Verso Prize for my MACCS degree. It is great to have the involvement of this vital political publisher, whose books and thinkers form an integral part of the course, especially at a time when radical political critique is becoming increasingly necessary.

“It goes without saying that my efforts are the product of excellent and inspiring instruction, and I am especially grateful for the support and supervision I received for my dissertation. It has been a fascinating two years and I feel that my writing, researching, presenting and debating skills have all been expanded by my experiences on the course. Stimulating modules and tuition have made it a wonderful mental escape from work.”

Neil’s prize will be Verso books and the publication of part of his dissertation on the Verso blog.

Dr Mark Blacklock, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary English and course convenor of the MA in Cultural and Critical Studies, said: “When thinking who we might approach to sponsor a prize for the MA Cultural and Critical Studies we looked no further than Verso, publishers of much of the most urgent work by the innovative thinkers we teach on the course. I’m absolutely delighted that Neil’s stunning piece will be encountered by the readers who turn to Verso for those very reasons and look forward to collaborating further with a publisher whose work seems increasingly relevant.”

Rowan Wilson, UK Director, Verso Books, said: “When Birkbeck offered Verso the opportunity to sponsor the prize for their MA dissertation, we leapt at the chance. Verso and our authors have been working with Birkbeck for many years: the College is renowned for its excellent teaching and research. Neil’s superb dissertation is a perfect example of the work that we like to publish, a bold and innovative exploration of culture at the point of crisis. We’re delighted to be showcasing an extract on our site.”

Read the extract from Neil’s prize-winning dissertation.