The James Tait Black Prizes
The James Tait Black Prizes logo

The legacy of Janet Coats Black

The James Tait Black Prizes originate from the charitable legacy of Janet Coats Black. Her bequest launched what have become the UK’s longest running book prizes, awarded in the name of her husband.

Janet Coats Black with family
Janet Coats Black (far left), James Tait Black (back row middle) - 1883 (By courtesy of Michael Bruce, Glen Tanar. Photo: Lucinda Byatt)

Centenary prize

A one-off creative writing prize was created to mark the centenary of the Prizes and their founder, Janet Coats Black.

The prize was awarded to the best short story by a matriculated postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.

The prize included a cheque for £1,500 and a half-day mentoring opportunity with 2018 fiction prize-winner, Eley Williams.

Janet Coats Black prize

Family ties

James Tait Black was a partner in the Edinburgh publishing firm A&C Black, now part of the Bloomsbury Group.

He was closely involved, among other projects, in the production of the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The firm also acquired Sir Walter Scott's works.

Janet Tait Black (née Coats) was part of the renowned threadmaking family, J&P Coats. The eldest daughter of Thomas Coats and Margaret Glen, her father was one of four brothers who inherited a Paisley-based thread manufacturing company that was renamed J&P Coats in 1830.

James Tait Black was an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh. He enrolled for the first year of an Arts course in 1843.

James Tait Black and Janet Coats Black were married in 1884.

Literary aspirations

Janet's own literary aspirations resulted in two volumes of poetry, one of which was published as Verses and Rhymes, in 1899.

After James Tait Black died in 1911, Janet preserved their joint book collection and his manuscripts.

Janet Coats Black died in 1918. Her will, following the philanthropic tradition of several other members of the Coats family, made provision to support education, health and welfare.

The bequest to commemorate her husband’s love of books – as a collector, reader and publisher – led to the creation of the James Tait Black Prizes.

First awards

Janet Coats Black specified the prize categories to be used, and the first awards took place in 1919.

She described each book to be, "Judged from a literary standpoint but taking the word in its fullest and widest meaning."

The original bequest is supplemented by the University, with each of the winners awarded £10,000.

Thanks to Janet Coats Black, the Prizes have been awarded every year since their inception in 1919.