Novelist Zia Haider Rahman and author, journalist and critic Richard Benson were last night (17th August) named the winners of the James Tait Black Prizes.
The winners of the awards, worth £10,000 each, were announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The James Tait Black Prizes are judged by academics and postgraduate students at the University of Edinburgh, who each year read more than 400 books and nominate a shortlist.
Rahman (pictured with Magnusson) won the fiction prize for his book In the Light of What We Know (Picador), which intertwines global finance, politics and personal relationships.
The other novels shortlisted were Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape), Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson (William Heinemann), and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (Fourth Estate).
Chairman of the James Tait Black Prize for fiction, Professor Randall Stevenson of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Zia Haider Rahman addresses a whole range of issues – the war in Afghanistan, the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and the banking crisis.
“Moreover, he also explores problematic areas of politics and finance, which are often exiled from the pages of fiction, immersing his readers, dauntingly but comprehensibly. The novel’s impressive scope is complemented by Rahman’s ability to locate the personal in the political.”
Benson won the biography prize for The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family (Bloomsbury), which offers a portrait of working class life.
The other biographies shortlisted were In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies (Quercus), Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes (Bloomsbury), and Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory by Patrick McGuinness (Jonathan Cape).
Biography judge Dr Jonathan Wild, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Richard Benson’s book represents a remarkable reclamation of a once prevalent social group now almost entirely gone.
“Richard Benson draws upon the history of his family to bring back to life the sort of mining community that once populated large swaths of the British landscape. He does this with an uncanny eye for details that allows his forebears to spring off the page and into life.”
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.