Wellcome Book Prize suspended

Wellcome Book Prize suspended

The Wellcome Book Prize has been suspended following 10 years of the award and the Collection declined to confirm if the award would return in future.

A review of the prize will take place and the award remains "committed to supporting writers", say organisers. The Bookseller had heard from two separate sources that the prize would close but this had been denied by Wellcome, though there have been various changes in its publishing department.

It is the second time the award focused on medical themes has been suspended with no prize awarded in 2013, before it was relaunched with a boosted prize fund

In a statement sent on Tuesday (21st May), the Wellcome Prize said: "We are extremely proud of the success of the Wellcome Book Prize, which celebrates exceptional works of literature that illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives.

"Wellcome Collection regularly reviews core programmes and initiatives so we can make sure they remain relevant, impactful and responsive to our audiences. Following the success of the 10th year of the prize, we’ve decided to take a pause and reflect, just as we did in 2013.

"Wellcome remains committed to supporting writers and great writing on health and what it means to be human. This pause will allow us to review what we’ve achieved so far and ensure we continue to achieve this goal. In the meantime, we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of the prize with Elif Shafak, 2019 chair of judges, who will give ‘The Wellcome Book Prize Lecture 2019’ at Hay Festival on 31st May 2019."

When asked by The Bookseller if the prize would definitely return in the future, organisers said: "The Wellcome Collection will be able to share further information after taking this time to reflect on the prize. It continues to be a part of the publisher role advertised, working closely with colleagues, including the head of public programmes at Wellcome Collection."

The news has been greeted with some dismay in the books trade. Former bookseller Sheila O'Reilly tweeted in reaction to the news: "Sad news. This prize had produced some fantastic winners over the years and supported book sales with wonderful window display competitions. Hopefully it will be back."

Author Mark Thornton agreed. "Again, shows the precarious balancing act needed for a sustainable book prize. Wellcome Collection (and the Trust) constantly evolve criteria of how they achieve their aims, and ruthless if match not a good one," he replied.

The publishing team has experienced various changes recently with publisher Kirty Topiwala moving to Hodder & Stoughton to lead its non fiction publishing (currently she is on maternity leave). Suzanne Connelly, assistant editor at Wellcome, recently joined Ebury as an editor and a publishing assistant is also being recruited. 

A job advert for Topiwala's role at Wellcome suggests that the prize will return at some stage. It reads: "You will take ownership of the Wellcome Book Prize strategy and identify future changes: review successes, oversee judges, marketing, an external PR agency and associated events."

The decision comes weeks after Will Eaves’ Alan Turing-inspired novel Murmur (CB Editions) scooped the 10th Wellcome Book Prize, worth £30,000.

Founded by the Wellcome Trust and first awarded in 2009, the prize is an annual award, open to new works of fiction or non-fiction. To be eligible for entry, a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness.