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Student award honours founder of book prizes

A creative writing prize for students has been launched to honour the founder of the UK’s longest running book awards.

The Janet Coats Black prize will be awarded in August to the best short story by a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.

The prize is part of the celebrations for the centenary of the James Tait Black Prizes, founded in 1919.

Mentoring opportunity

The winning student will be awarded £1500 and a mentoring opportunity with last year’s James Tait Black Prize fiction winner, Eley Williams.

The one-off prize will go to the best short story submission on the theme of century.

In 1918, Janet Tait Black, née Coats, part of the renowned threadmaking family J & P Coats, made provision in her will for the creation of two book prizes in the name of her husband.

This legacy launched what have become the UK’s longest running book prizes.

Love of books

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

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

She asked for each book to be "judged from a literary standpoint but taking the word in its fullest and widest meaning".

Annual awards

The annual prizes have been presented every year since 1919 – surviving the Second World War, changing technology and evolving reading habits. 

The awards have recognised landmark works and have propelled the careers of many authors, such as Zadie Smith, who won the prize at the start of her career for the novel White Teeth.   

This year a mix of books on themes such as gender, identity and race form the shortlist for the historic prize.

Janet Coats Black - image courtesy of Michael Bruce, Glen Tanar, Lucinda Byatt
Janet Coats Black - image courtesy of Michael Bruce, Glen Tanar, Lucinda Byatt

Award ceremony

The winners of both prizes will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. The centenary celebrations will be attended by some of the previous winning authors. 

The James Tait Black Prizes are distinctive in the way that they are judged. Each year the books are considered by senior staff from English Literature at the University, assisted by a reading panel of postgraduate students.

In 2013, the awards were extended to include a new category for drama.

Thanks to Janet Coats Black the James Tait Black Prizes were created in 1919. They have been awarded every year since, forming an unparalleled record of literary achievement. This new student prize honours Janet Coat Black and her support for literature and the written word.

Former Judge, Dr Jonathan WildSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Her extraordinary initiative had completely faded from view, but in the centenary year of the James Tait Black Prizes, Janet’s role has finally gained the recognition it deserves. She certainly deserves to have a prize in her own name.

Dr Lucinda ByattDistant cousin of Janet Coats,  a teaching fellow at the Centre for Open Learning and a tutor in the Italian and History departments

Twitter: #JTB100 and #JamesTaitBlack

Prize details 

The legacy of Janet Coats Black

The James Tait Black Prizes

2019 Shortlist announcement

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