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Judging the James Tait Black Prizes 2019: Vivek Santayana

The PhD student and reader for this year’s James Tait Black Prizes reflects on being involved in 100 years of literary celebration.

The James Tait Black (JTB) Prizes are the only major awards of their kind in Britain to be judged by scholars and students.

Two people reading books
Vivek (r) with June Laurenson, this year's Lead Student Reader for Biography. Image © Neil Hanna.

Established in 1919 for Fiction and Biography, the book Prizes have been awarded annually for 100 years. There has also been a Drama Prize since 2012.

PhD student Vivek Santayana is one of around 20 postgraduate students in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh who, along with senior staff, read and review the hundreds of books submitted to the Prizes by publishers.

Here he tells us about the experience of reading for the Prizes in their centenary year, and looks forward to the announcement of the special, one-off Janet Coats Black Prize for creative writing which closes for entry on Friday 17th May 2019.

Actively engaging with the wider literary community

A student and graduate of the University of Edinburgh, Vivek is highly active in postgraduate life in LLC and the University. It was while studying for his undergraduate degree here that he first became aware of the JTB’s “illustrious history, as well as the rigour with which it is adjudicated”.

“To celebrate the English Literature department’s 250th anniversary (in 2012), we organised hustings for the ‘Best of the JTB’. This is something I am proud of because it is a way for the department to actively engage with the wider community of publishers, writers, and readers. Moreover, reading for the Prizes is an opportunity to read some of the best of contemporary fiction”.

“As a reader, I am always reflecting on what the Prizes have stood for in reading and selecting entries. Although I am less involved in the more publicly visible celebrations to commemorate the centenary, I keep looking back to the illustrious winners of the prize and I bring that rigour into reading and selecting the books that I was assigned.”

Find out what made this year's JTB shortlist on the University of Edinburgh website

A practical use of critical skills

For Vivek, reading for the James Tait Black Prizes has been “a practical use of many of the critical skills I am developing through the course of my studies. It also grounds my research within a dynamic landscape of contemporary writing and publishing.”

“It has exposed me to many different works by writers who engage with similar issues and concerns as the ones in my research. It has also given me what I suppose is a productive way to procrastinate, as reading for the Prizes is always a nice break from my core research.”

Asked about the Janet Coats Black creative writing prize, a one-off award to mark the JTB centenary, he says: “The JTB has shown that English Literature at Edinburgh has immense foresight in recognising some of the finest works of fiction by writers today by writers who will soon become prominent figures."

"The recognition from the Janet Coats Black Prize carries a similar prestige for any writer, of being recognised early in one’s career of being someone to look out for.”

Find out more about the Janet Coats Black Prize | deadline Friday 17th May 2019

Are you interested in a PhD in English Literature?

The James Tait Black Prizes are just one of many opportunities available to our students, who also benefit from a wide range of reading and discussion groups (a number of which are student led), papers by visiting speakers, ‘work-in-progress’ seminars and conferences. Our doctoral candidates also contribute to, and edit, the journal Forum.

Find out more about doing a PhD with us

Related links

The James Tait Black Prizes