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Book prize shortlist shares inspiring stories

An absorbing blend of books offering fresh takes on themes such as the intricacies of relationships, cultural identity and journeys of self-discovery form the shortlist of Britain’s longest-running literary prizes.

Montage of eight book authors and book covers.

Contenders for this year’s James Tait Black Prizes include a collection of short stories exploring real and imagined portrayals of Englishness and a novel inspired by one of the first Black female doctors in the United States.

Other nominated titles in the fiction category are a book depicting life in south London through a series of vignettes, and a debut novel about families, relationships and two young men falling in and out of love.

Fiction list

The awards – presented by the University since 1919 – are the only major British book prizes judged by literature scholars and students.

The four novels shortlisted for the £10,000 fiction prize are: English Magic by Uschi Gatward (Galley Beggar Press); Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Serpent’s Tail); A Shock by Keith Ridgway (Picador); and Memorial by Bryan Washington (Atlantic Books).

Biography list

The shortlist for the £10,000 biography prize includes a collection of essays reflecting on Black performance in America on the stage and on the screen, and an autobiographical exploration of the role and meaning of Indian classical music.

Also in the running is a translated memoir telling the story of a Jewish family in Russia over the course of a century and a biography that delves into the life and work of writer (and one-time James Tait Black prizewinner) DH Lawrence.

The four biographies shortlisted for the £10,000 prize are: A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib (Allen Lane); Finding the Raga: An Improvisation on Indian Music by Amit Chaudhuri (Faber); In Memory of Memory: A Romance by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale (Fitzcarraldo Editions); and Burning Man: The Ascent of DH Lawrence by Frances Wilson (Bloomsbury).

The shortlist was selected from 400 submitted books.

The winners of both prizes will be announced in August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which will take place for the second time at the University’s Edinburgh College of Art.

At a time of extreme geopolitical unrest, these impressive works of contemporary fiction remind us of the local attachments and everyday intimacies that sustain people during difficult times. 

Dr Benjamin BatemanFiction Judge

Whether alighting on literature or film, music or painting, photography, diaries or everyday gestures, each of the shortlisted books this year is both an illuminating inquiry into the relations between life and art, and a vivid, surprising and exhilarating artistic performance in its own right.

Dr Simon CookeBiography Judge

The annual Prizes are for the best work of fiction and biography written in or translated into English published in the previous 12 months.

The James Tait Black Prizes began celebrating books more than a century ago after 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, to be awarded annually in memory of her husband, James Tait Black.

Literary giants

The list of former winners and shortlisters features many literary giants, including Angela Carter, Graham Greene, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Muriel Spark and Evelyn Waugh. 

Equally distinguished names appear on the list of biography winners, including Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis, Quentin Bell, John Buchan, Richard Ellmann, Hermione Lee and Lytton Strachey.

Online course

Since 2017 the University has also been running a free online course in partnership with Edinburgh International Book Festival to offer readers the chance to engage with judges and other readers on the shortlisted fiction books.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) – called ‘How to Read a Novel’ – draws on the James Tait Black fiction shortlist and has attracted nearly 60,000 participants from across the globe.

James Tait Black Prizes

School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures