James Tait Black Prizes: Shortlist announced for UK’s oldest literary honours

Among the nominated works are a novel inspired by one of the first, black, female doctors in the United States and a biography of DH Lawrence.

05 April 2022

The shortlist for the UK’s oldest literary prize has been announced.

The James Tait Black Prizes have been awarded since 1919, with previous winners including famous names as Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh and Martin Amis.

They honour works of both fiction and biography, with the winning authors in the two categories each picking up a £10,000 prize.

The awards, presented by the University of Edinburgh, are also the only major British book prizes to be judged by literature scholars and students.

The James Tait Black Prizes have been presented by the University of Edinburgh since 1919 (David Cheskin/PA)

The eight books shortlisted across both categories have been selected from more than 400 works which were submitted.

The books in the running for the fiction prize 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.

Also nominated 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.

The four novels shortlisted for the  fiction prize are: English Magic by Uschi Gatward, Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge, A Shock by Keith Ridgway and Memorial by Bryan Washington.

Speaking about the shortlist, fiction judge, Dr Benjamin Bateman, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “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.”

The shortlist for the 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 Russian-Jewish family over the course of a century and a biography that delves into the life and work of writer – and former James Tait Black prize winner –  DH Lawrence.

The shortlisted biographies are: A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib; Finding the Raga: An Improvisation on Indian Music by Amit Chaudhuri; In Memory of Memory: A Romance by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale and Burning Man: The Ascent of DH Lawrence by Frances Wilson.

Biography judge, Dr Simon Cooke, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “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.”

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