A biography of war correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum and Olivia Laing’s novel Crudo have won this year’s James Tait Black Prizes.
The £10,000 prizes, awarded each year by the University of Edinburgh, were announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday (17th August).
Laing scooped the fiction prize for Crudo (Picador), charting the personal transformation and love affair of a woman during the political turbulence of the summer of 2017.
Accepting her prize, Laing said “competition has no place in art” and announced she would divide the prize money equally between the shortlisted authors.
Fiction judge Dr Alex Lawrie, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is fiction at its finest: a bold and reactive political novel that captures a raw slice of contemporary history with pace, charm, and wit.”
Laing was chosen from a shortlist of Murmur by Will Eaves (Canongate), Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray) and Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Chatto & Windus).
In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin (Chatto and Windus) picked up the biography prize. Hilsum, international editor at Channel 4 News, chronicled Colvin’s extraordinary life and career reporting on some of the world’s most devastating conflicts from 1985 until her 2012 death in Syria.
Judge Dr Simon Cooke said: “This is a uniquely informed, passionate and balanced testament to the legendary war reporter Marie Colvin in all her human complexity, and a searching inquiry into her extraordinary dedication to bearing witness to the stories of those living in extremis.”
She saw off competition from a shortlist featuring Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala (Two Roads), The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library by Edward Wilson-Lee (William Collins) and The Life of Stuff: A Memoir about the Mess We Leave Behind by Susannah Walker (Doubleday).
The books were judged by senior staff from the university’s English Literature department, assisted by a reading panel of Edinburgh postgraduate students.
To mark the centenary of the prizes, set up in 1918, this year the university presented an additional prize – a creative writing award for short story writing.
The Janet Coats Black Prize was awarded to Julie Galante, a creative writing student, for the best short story by a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.
She was awarded £1500 and a mentoring opportunity with last year’s James Tait Black Prize fiction winner, Eley Williams, who picked up the award for Attrib. and Other Stories (Influx Press).