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James Tait Black Shortlist

An international line-up of respected novelists forms the shortlist for Britain’s oldest literary awards announced on Monday 19 May 2014.

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Novels based around an 18th century English village; a family’s response to a terminal illness; a young woman’s obsession with motorcycles; and the daily toil of a shepherdess are contenders for this year’s James Tait Black Prizes.

Works by American authors Kent Haruf and Rachel Kushner join the latest books by acclaimed British writer Jim Crace and Australian novelist Evie Wyld in the shortlist for the £10,000 fiction prize.

Contenders for the £10,000 biography prize include fascinating accounts of Joe Ranz and fellow members of the 1936 Olympic rowing team, Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled China for almost half a century until 1908, Booker prize-winning novelist and biographer Penelope Fitzgerald; and an account of the biographer’s aunt, a young woman in Nazi-occupied France.

Two prizes are awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh for books published during the previous year - one for the best work of fiction and the other for the best biography. The winners will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August.

The four novels competing for the fiction prize are: Harvest by Jim Crace ; Benediction by Kent Haruf ; The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner; All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

The shortlisted works for the biography section are: The Boys in the Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin by Daniel James Brown ; Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang ; Penelope Fitzgerald: A life by Hermione Lee; Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France by Nicholas Shakespeare.

The nominations have been chosen from more than 350 books worldwide by English Literature academics and 25 postgraduate students at the University.

The James Tait Black Awards, awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of good books. The prizes are the only major British book awards judged by literature scholars and students.