Longest-running Book Awards Continue to Captivate in 100th Year

Longest-running Book Awards Continue to Captivate in 100th Year

An appealing mix of books illuminating themes such as gender, identity and race form the shortlist for the centenary awards of Britain’s longest-running literary prizes, announced today.

Contenders for the James Tait Black Prizes include a novel inspired by computing science pioneer Alan Turing and a debut novel about a woman’s journey into motherhood. The other nominated titles are a book about personal relationships in the midst of political turmoil, and a collection of short stories exploring black identity in America.  

The four novels competing for the £10,000 fiction prize are: Murmur by Will Eaves (CB Editions); Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray); Crudo by Olivia Laing (Picador); and Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Chatto & Windus).

The shortlist for the £10,000 biography prize includes a debut book by award-winning hip-hop artist Akala which explores issues around race and class, and a journey through the experiences of American war correspondent Marie Colvin. Also in the running is a personal memoir about mourning and the hoarding of possessions and a biography of Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando Columbus, who sailed the world to collect books and prints.

The four biographies shortlisted for the £10,000 prize are: Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala (Two Roads); In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum (Chatto & Windus); The Life of Stuff: A Memoir about the Mess We Leave Behind by Susannah Walker (Doubleday); The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library by Edward Wilson-Lee (William Collins).

The winners of both prizes – presented annually by the University of Edinburgh – will be announced at the Book Festival in August. The centenary celebrations will be attended by some of the previous winning authors.  

Fiction judge Dr Alex Lawrie, of the University of Edinburgh, said of the shortlist: “These four books are stylish, witty, and experimental. I'm thrilled that in this centenary year our shortlist reflects the very best that fiction can offer.”

Biography judge of the James Tait Black Prizes Dr Simon Cooke, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “In searching, eloquent, and formally inventive explorations of their subjects, these four books ask questions about the way all of us live our lives. I’m delighted that this year’s shortlist shows the reach and vitality of biographical writing in the centenary year of the James Tait Black.”

The annual Prizes have been presented every year since 1919 – surviving two world wars, evolving technology and changing reading habits. In 1918, Janet Tait Black née Coats, part of the renowned threadmaking family J & P Coats, made provision in her will for the creation of two book prizes, to be awarded annually in memory to her husband, James Tait Black.

The James Tait Black Prizes are distinctive in the way that they are judged. Each year the books are considered by senior staff from English Literature at the University, assisted by a reading panel of postgraduate students.

To mark the centenary, and to honour the founder of the Prizes, a creative writing prize for students has been created. The Janet Coats Black Prize will be awarded in August to the best short story by a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. The winning student will be awarded £1,500 and a mentoring opportunity with last year’s James Tait Black Prize fiction winner, Eley Williams.

This year’s fiction shortlist features in a free online course launched by The University of Edinburgh in partnership with the Book Festival. The course seeks to help book lovers get the best out of their reading.

The Massive Open Online Course – or MOOC – called How to Read a Novel, draws on an array of texts, from the classics to contemporary works.

You can find out more about the James Tait Black Prizes by clicking here.

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