Hip-hop artist Akala and Will Eaves are among the authors on the shortlist for the centenary awards of the James Tait Black Prizes revealed today (Thursday, 4 April).
Contenders for the James Tait Black Prizes, include Republic of Consciousness Prize-winning Murmur by Will Eaves (CB Editions), a novel inspired by computing science pioneer Alan Turing and Jessie Greengrass's debut novel Sight (John Murray) about a woman’s journey into motherhood.
Olivia Laing’s debut Crudo (Picador), a novel about personal relationships in the midst of political turmoil; and the short story collection exploring black identity in America, Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Chatto & Windus) make up the shortlist competing for the £10,000 fiction prize.
The shortlist for the £10,000 biography prize includes Akala’s debut Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (Two Roads) which explores issues around race and class, and a journey through the experiences of American war correspondent Marie Colvin, In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum (Chatto & Windus).
Also in the running is a personal memoir about mourning and the hoarding of possessions The Life of Stuff: A Memoir about the Mess We Leave Behind by Susannah Walker (Doubleday) and The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library by Edward Wilson-Lee (William Collins), a biography of Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando Columbus, who sailed the world to collect books and prints.
The winners of both prizes, presented annually by the University of Edinburgh, will be announced at the Edinburgh International 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.
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.