Helon Habila’s Travellers and Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval are on the shortlists for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize 2020 announced on June 22, 2020.
The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, awarded for literature written in the English language, are Britain’s oldest literary awards. The prizes, based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, were founded by Janet Coats Black in memory of her late husband, James Tait Black, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd in 1919. There are two awards given for Fiction and Biographies written in English and published in the previous calendar year each worth £10,000 to the winner. The winner is selected by the Professor of English Literature at Edinburgh University, assisted by PhD students. Some of the previous winners have been Eimear McBride, D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Nadine Gordimer, John le Carré, Salman Rushdie, and Zadie Smith.
The shortlists for the prizes were announced in the two categories on June 22. Fiction judge Dr Benjamin Bateman said of the fiction entries, “At our trying hour of staying home, these four dazzling works of fiction supply nourishing forms of travel – around the world, across perilous borders, and into the thoughts of compelling characters whose personal and political emergencies demand our attention.” The four novels shortlisted for the fiction prize are:
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press).
- Travellers by Helon Habila (Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin).
- Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall (Faber).
- Girl by Edna O’Brien (Faber).
Biography judge Dr Simon Cooke said, “Whether crossing distances to bear witness or writing the life of one’s own body, recovering lives through the archive or in one’s own family, each of these luminous books is a work of amazing artistic daring, imagination, and integrity. With challenges of isolation, distance and proximity such keynotes, these perfectly pitched voices draw us into the lives of others and ourselves with exhilarating urgency and patience.” The four biographies shortlisted for the prize are:
- What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forché (Allen Lane/ Penguin).
- Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinéad Gleeson (Picador).
- Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman (Serpent’s Tail).
- The Photographer at Sixteen: The Death and Life of a Fighter by George Szirtes (MacLehose Press).
The winners of both prizes will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which takes place online due to the coronavirus pandemic, in August.