Two titles published by Faber, one by James Shapiro and the other by Benjamin Markovits, have won the £10,000 James Tait Black Prizes for fiction and biography.
Shapiro’s 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Faber and Faber), won the £10,000 biography prize. It explores a "pivotal year" in Shakespeare’s life - how the events of 1606 shaped Shakespeare’s writing in the "tumultuous" year of "King Lear", "Macbeth" and "Antony and Cleopatra".
Meanwhile, Markovits’ You Don’t Have to Live Like This (Faber), won the £10,000 fiction prize. It is set primarily in Detroit around the time of the financial crash and Barack Obama’s election, in 2008.
Shapiro is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His winning biography book is a sequel to 1599 (Faber), which followed another eventful year in the life of the Bard, who died 400 years again this year.
Biography judge Dr Jonathan Wild, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Shapiro quite brilliantly interweaves the material found in the 1606 plays with the historical events of this momentous year, allowing us in the process new perspectives on familiar material. He is particularly deft in the ways that he writes about often arcane detail for a non-specialist readership. This is ‘keyhole’ biography at its very best and no reader could put this volume down without feeling enormously enlightened about Shakespeare’s work and times.”
Shapiro beat off competition from a shortlist which included The Blue Touch Paper: A Memoir by David Hare (Faber); Bloomsbury’s Outside: A Life of David Ganett by Sarah Knights (Bloomsbury) and John Aubrey: My Own Life by Ruth Scurr (Chatto and Windus).
The winning fiction novel is the sixth by Markovits, who was a professional basketball player before becoming a writer. He is currently a teacher of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Fiction judge Dr Alex Lawrie of the University of Edinburgh, said: “In this astonishing state-of-the-nation novel, Markovits deftly captures the racial and economic fault lines at the heart of a supposedly utopian experiment for urban renewal in 21st-century Detroit. You Don’t Have to Live Like This forces us to re-examine our own prejudices and advantages, and the impact these have on our willingness to behave in an ethical and socially responsible manner.”
Markovits’ novel topped a shortlist which featured Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (Canongate), The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall (Faber) and The First Bad Man by Miranda July (Canongate).
The James Tait Black Prizes were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of good books. Each year more than 400 novels are read by academics and postgraduates students from the University of Edinburgh who nominate books for the shortlist.