Literary prize winners announced

Acclaimed novelist Padgett Powell and leading biographer Fiona MacCarthy have joined the roll call of celebrated writers to win the James Tait Black Prizes, Britain’s oldest literary awards.

Book covers for Padgett Powell's You and I and Fiona MacCarthy's The Last Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination

The winners of the £10,000 prizes have been announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The prizes are awarded annually by English Literature at the University of Edinburgh for the best work of fiction and the best biography published during the previous 12 months.


The James Tait Black winners give their reaction to the awards:

The woman who forty years ago inspired me and supported me in the presumption to write has recently written me that she considers the James Tait Black Prize second to the Nobel. I do not gainsay her.

Padgett PowellWinner, James Tait Black Prize for fiction
Padgett Powell

Padgett Powell, fiction winner

American writer Padgett Powell is winner of the fiction prize for his book "You and I".

Powell is a Professor of writing at the University of Florida.

His work has been was nominated for an American Book Award and excerpted in The New Yorker.

He saw off competition from authors including ManBooker Prize nominee A.D. Miller and Scots writer Ali Smith, who also made the fiction shortlist in 2006 and 2011.

Fiona MacCarthy, biography winner

Fiona MacCarthy

One of Britain’s foremost literary biographers, Fiona MacCarthy is the recipient of the biography prize for her book on the British artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones, "The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination".

McCarthy topped a biography that included Pulitzer Prize winner Manning Marable for his book, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention", and Australian author Ian Donaldson for his biography of Renaissance dramatist Ben Johnson.


The four novels competing for the fiction prize were:

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
  • Solace by Belinda McKeon
  • You and I by Padgett Powell
  • There But For The by Ali Smith

The shortlisted works for the biography section were:

  • Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson
  • The Last Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination by Fiona MacCarthy
  • Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
  • Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life by Susie Harries

Distinguished award

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of reading. They are the only major British book awards judged by scholars and postgraduate literature students.

The James Tait Black's roster of former winners includes some of the best writers in the literary canon with past winners including DH Lawrence, Ian McEwan and Cormac McCarthy.

The James Tait Black Prizes have a very long history of celebrating the work of great novelists and biographers. The quality of works we considered this year was top notch, which made the shortlisting process even more difficult than usual.

Professor Jonathan WildBiography judge, the University of Edinburgh

New prize for drama

This year the James Tait Black Prizes have been extended to include a new category for drama. The prize for the best original new play written in English, Scots or Gaelic has been organised by the University in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland.

The first winner of this award will be announced in August 2013.

The announcement of the new drama prize was made as part of the celebrations to mark 250 years of English Literature study at the University of Edinburgh.

Related Links

James Tait Black Prizes

James Tait Black drama prize

250 years of English Literature