Literatures, Languages & Cultures

James Tait Black Awards 2015

Eight critically acclaimed authors are in the running for Britain’s oldest literary awards.

The results of the University’s James Tait Black Prizes will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday, 17 August.

Books by Richard Benson, Dan Davies, Rachel Holmes and Patrick McGuiness make up the shortlist for the biography prize. Novels by Zia Haider Rahman, Samantha Harvey, Smith Henderson and Matthew Thomas form the shortlist for the fiction prize.

An exciting mix of debut and early career writers are contenders for the annual prizes. They are awarded annually by the University’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures - the oldest centre for the study of English Literature in the world, established in 1762.

More than 400 books were read by Edinburgh academics and postgraduate students, who nominated books for the shortlist.

Fiction Prize

Among the contenders for the fiction prize are novels based around the themes of globalism, war and politics. These sit alongside books exploring more intimate issues such as illness and adultery.

  • In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (Picador)
  • Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
  • Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson (William Heinemann)
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (Fourth Estate).


Books up for the £10,000 biography prize include accounts of Eleanor Marx - the pioneering feminist who emerged from the shadow of her famous father, Karl Marx. There is a memoir centred on a south Yorkshire mining community that offers an intimate portrait of working-class family life over the last hundred years. A personal account of growing up in a Belgian town that illuminates the relationship between place, time and memory is also on the list. A revealing biography of the ‘life and lies’ of one of the most controversial figures of recent times, Jimmy Savile completes the line-up.

  • The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family by Richard Benson (Bloomsbury)
  • In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies (Quercus)
  • Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes (Bloomsbury)
  • Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory by Patrick McGuinness (Jonathan Cape)

The four shortlisted titles showcase the range, innovation and excellence of biographical writing in 2014.

Dr Jonathan Wild, School of Literatures, Languages and CulturesCitation Biography judge

Strong competition, once again, for the prestigious James Tait Black Prize is reflected in an exciting shortlist: these are moving, compelling novels, incisive and encompassing in their vision.

Professor Randall StevensonCitation Fiction judge, Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at the University of Edinburgh

The winners will join the distinguished gallery of past winners including figures of global literary distinction. These include Angela Carter, Graham Greene, DH Lawrence, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Muriel Spark and Evelyn Waugh.

Equally distinguished names appear on the list of biography winners. Among them are Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis, Quentin Bell, John Buchan, Richard Ellmann, Kathryn Hughes, Hermione Lee, Lytton Strachey and Claire Tomalin.

The prizes were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of good books.

Drama Prize

In 2012, a third prize category was announced for Drama, with the first winner of this award announced in August 2013.

The shortlist for this year’s James Tait Black Prize for Drama is: Tomorrow Come Today by Gordon Dalquist, The James Plays by Rona Munro and Incognito by Nick Payne

The winner will be announced at a ceremony on Monday, 24 August in the Traverse Theatre, readings of each play will be delivered by professional actors at the ceremony.