Book prize celebrates 90th anniversary

This year sees the 90th anniversary of the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, Britain’s oldest literary awards.

Since 1919, the University has been recognising the best work of fiction and best biography.

Rosemary Hill and James Naughtie at the James Tait Black Award Ceremony

Literary giants

The list of James Tait Black winners reads like a selective history of good writing across the 20th and into the 21st century.

Recipients of the annual prizes include literary giants such as D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene and Ian McEwan.

The shortlist announcement for the 2009 prizes is being made on Thursday, May 14 at a 90th anniversary celebration event in London.

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are the only major British book awards judged by English Literature staff and students at a British University.

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

Judging panel

The original bequest stipulated the prizes to be judged by ‘the Professor of English at Edinburgh’.

For this year’s awards, Edinburgh’s first female Regius Professor Laura Marcus joins the team as biography judge, bringing to the process her scholarly expertise in life-writing.

It is a further mark of the Prizes’ distinctiveness that, for some years now, teams of postgraduate readers have become a crucial part of the selection procedure, passing on their recommendations for further consideration by the judges.

Winners announcement

The crime writer Ian Rankin will announce the winners at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 21 August.

Rankin is one of five honorary Edinburgh graduates on the advisory committee for the awards.

The other members of the committee are broadcaster James Naughtie, best- selling author Alexander McCall-Smith, the Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival Catherine Lockerbie, and former Chair of the Cultural Commission, James Boyle.

As things stand at present, if imaginative writing has come to lasting prominence over the past eighty years or so, the chances are its authors figure somewhere on the James Tait Black lists.

Professor Colin NicholsonManager of the awards