An eight-strong shortlist of writers from both sides of the Atlantic has been revealed for the £20,000 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award.
The annual prize, now organised by the British Library and Hay Festival, is awarded to writers in the creative stages of a new project relating to the Caribbean or North, Central or South America.
Alongside £20,000, two winners are awarded a year’s writing residency at the British Library and, for the first time, a dedicated platform at worldwide Hay Festival events. The victors will be announced at the British Library on 25th November.
The shortlist includes Nikesh Shukla for Guest Is God, a psychological thriller set around American motel life in the 1990s. Shukla plans to use the British Library’s North American collections to explore the language around immigration through the 1980-90s in North America.
Also nominated is Jon Lee Anderson for his forthcoming biography of Fidel Castro, which will explore Castro’s life and legacy by drawing from Cuba-related documentation from within the library’s Latin American collections.
Chloe Aridjis is nominated for her novel Reports from the Land of the Bats, which explores the complex encounters between artistic, anthropological and local interests and is set in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas. Aridjis plans to map out her own Chiapanecan topography using material from the British Library including botanical manuals, political tracts, the dream chronicles of the Tzotzil Indians and early travelogues and accounts from the Conquest.
Also on the list is Gloria Susana Esquivel for her non-fiction project The ones that were there: artists, writers, politicians, intellectuals and activists which will highlight 15 Colombian women who lived during the 20th Century. Her research will draw from the British Library’s newspaper archive.
Yara Rodrigues Fowler is chosen for Love in the time of -, an experimental novel about democracy and dictatorship, sisterhood and sexuality which will draw from the oral and literary traditions of Brazil and the UK to weave together two generations of women: one living in Brazil under the military dictatorship and the other in contemporary London. The author want to use of library’s collection of Brazilian newspapers, political pamphlets and monographs.
The shortlist also includes Carlos Granés for American Delirium: Artistic Vanguard and Political Radicalism in Latin America, a study of the evolution of culture and its influence on Latin American politics throughout the 20th century. The book will be informed by political and artistic manifestos, poetry, memoirs and biographies from within the British Library’s Latin American collections.
Daniel Saldaña Paris gets a nod for his novel Principio de mediocridad, a story composed of four first person narrations, each a relationship with the city of Cuernavaca, Mexico, for which the author will delve into the collections to research the cultural history of landscapes and artistic movements in Latin America.
Rounding off the list is Nicholas Pierpan for Year of the Crisis, a historical drama following the travails of one North American family over the course of a year, culminating in President Carter’s remarkable ‘crisis of confidence’ speech of 1979. Pierpan will make use of the North American collections to build a picture of the country during the late 1970s.
Chair of judges Philip Hatfield said: “The 2020 award received more interest than we’ve ever had before. Reading about so many projects that can benefit from access to the British Library’s Americas collections has been enormously inspiring. While the decision-making was challenging, we are excited to present a list that is bursting with excellence and creativity. Most importantly, it is a list that showcases the very best of borderless storytelling, which is what our collaboration with Hay Festival has at its beating heart. We are delighted to be able to support our shortlistees in the development of their projects and look forward to selecting the winners.”
The 2020 award is the first since the Eccles Centre at the British Library announced it was joining forces with Hay Festival for the annual prize.