Libyan writer Hisham Matar has won the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize, awarded at the Biographers' Club prize dinner yesterday evening (15th November) at the Savile Club in London.
Matar took the £3,500 Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize with The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Viking), a memoir of the author's journey in search of answers behind his father's abduction by Colonel Gaddafi 22 years earlier when Matar was 19.
The book fought off competition for the prize from other shortlisted works by first-time biographers East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity by Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld) - this year's winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, for which Matar was also shortlisted - David Aaronovitch's Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists (Cape), Juliet Nicolson's A House Full of Daughters (Chatto) and David Hare's The Blue Touch Paper (Faber).
Flora Fraser, who judged the award with fellow judges were Richard Davenport-Hines and Ysenda Maxtone Graham, commented: "Matar's The Return tells in poignant and exquisite detail of loss and reclamation following his father's imprisonment in Gaddafi's Libya. Masterly."
Sarah Watling won the £2,000 Tony Lothian Prize for best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography for Noble Savages, as judged by biographer and academic Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Susie Dowdall of the Daily Mail, and author Peter Stanford. It offers a portrait of the four Olivier sisters: Margery, Brynhild, Daphne and Noel, daughters of the Fabian Sir Sydney Olivier, Governor of Jamaica.
Hilary Spurling received the Lifetime Services to Biography award. Among the award's past winners are Michael Holroyd, Richard Holmes, Claire Tomalin, Selina Hastings and, in 2015, John Julius Norwich. Spurling's subjects have included Paul Scott, Henri Matisse, and Pearl Buck and she is working on a life of Anthony Powell. Her biography Matisse the Master (Penguin) won the 2005 Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year.