Shola Von Reinhold has won the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction for "tour de force" debut Lote (Jacaranda) while Doireann Ní Ghríofa has taken the biography award for the "luminous" A Ghost in the Throat (Tramp Press).
The winners of the £10,000 prizes were announced by author and broadcaster Sally Magnusson during a pre-recorded event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 25th August.
Von Reinhold’s book has already picked up the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, and is part of publisher Jacaranda’s Twenty in 2020 scheme, an initiative to launch 20 titles by 20 Black British writers in one year.
The book follows the narrator Mathilda's fixation with the forgotten Black Scottish modernist poet Hermia Druitt, a bohemian socialite of the 1920s. Fiction judge Dr Benjamin Bateman called Lote “an imaginative tour de force that combines a gripping detective plot with a thoughtful meditation on the historical neglect of Black queer and women artists”.
Von Reinhold said: “Not to be too dramatic, but my head is still spinning too much to make any kind of concise statement. Right now, I can't stop thinking of Hermia Druitt, who was alive a century ago when this prize was conceived, encountering many of the modernist winners and shortlistees but herself a Black, Afro-Scottish writer, unlikely to have been shortlisted for any such thing—so there's a strange joint sense of poetic mourning and justice for her and what she represents in the book. I am of course also delighted, and deeply thankful to the student and faculty judges for choosing it."
Their novel was picked from a shortlist featuring three other titles: Alligator & Other Stories (Picador) by Dima Alzayat, The First Woman (Oneworld) by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, and A Children’s Bible (W W Norton) by Lydia Millet.
Award-winning poet and essayist Ní Ghríofa triumphed in the biography category for A Ghost in the Thoat, her prose debut. Biography judge Dr Simon Cooke called the book “a work of great and searching depth and generosity—as involving as it is luminous—that weaves poetry, memoir, biography and translation into a powerful celebration of female texts and a profound exploration of the way the voice and life of one poet echoes in the life and voice of another".
Ní Ghríofa said: "It's such a deep joy to be awarded this prize. In truth, I can barely believe it. From the very beginning, as I set out in pursuit of a ghost, this book often surprised me, and it continues to do so! I'm very grateful to the judges, to my agent Alba Ziegler-Bailey, and to the wonderful Tramp Press."
Ní Ghríofa’s book had been shortlisted alongside The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire (Yale) by Kate Fullagar; Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Allen Lane) by Sudhir Hazareesingh; and Recollections of My Non-Existence (Granta) by Rebecca Solnit.
The James Tait Black Prizes are for the best works of fiction and biography during the previous 12 months. They are the only major British book awards judged by literature scholars and students. Prizes are awarded by the University of Edinburgh’s English Literature department.