James Tait Black Memorial Prize

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are literary prizes awarded for literature written in the English language. They, along with the Hawthornden Prize, are Britain's oldest literary awards.[1] Based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, United Kingdom, the prizes were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats Black in memory of her late husband,[2] James Tait Black, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd.[3] Prizes are awarded in three categories: Fiction, Biography and Drama (since 2013).

James Tait Black Memorial Prizes
Awarded forAwarded for literature written in the English language
First awarded1919 (1919)


From its inception, the James Tait Black prize was organised without overt publicity. There was a lack of press and publisher attention, initially at least, because Edinburgh was distant from the literary centres of the country. The decision about the award was made by the Regius Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at the University of Edinburgh.[1]

Four winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature received the James Tait Black earlier in their careers: William Golding, Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee each collected the James Tait Black for fiction, whilst Doris Lessing took the prize for biography. In addition to these literary Nobels, Sir Ronald Ross, whose 1923 autobiography Memoirs, Etc. received the biography prize, was already a Nobel laureate, having been awarded the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on malaria.[4]

In 2012, a third prize category was announced for Drama, with the first winner of this award announced in August 2013.[3]

Selection process and prize administration

The winners are chosen by the Professor of English Literature at the university, who is assisted by postgraduate students in the shortlisting phase, a structure which is seen to lend the prizes a considerable gravitas. At the award of the 2006 prizes, at which Cormac McCarthy was a winner, McCarthy's publisher commented positively on the selection process noting that, in the absence of a sponsor and literary or media figures amongst the judging panel, the decision is made by "students and professors, whose only real agenda can be great books and great writing".[5] The original endowment is now supplemented by the university and, as a consequence, the total prize fund rose from 2005 awards.[6] Each of the three annual prizes—one for fiction, one for biography, and one for drama—is worth £10,000.[3][7] The university is advised in relation to the development and administration of the Prize by a small committee which includes Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and James Naughtie amongst its members. In August 2007 the prize ceremony was held at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the first time.[8]


For the book prizes works of fiction and biographies must be written in English. The nationality of the author does not matter, but submissions must be first published (or co-published) in Britain during the calendar year of the award. Any given author can only win each prize once. However, he or she can win both prizes at the same time.

For the drama category, the work must be originally written in either English, Gaelic or Welsh, be produced first during the previous calendar year, have a playing time over one hour, and have been performed no fewer than seven times by a professional theatre company.[9][10]

List of recipients


YearFiction AwardBiography AwardDrama Award
1919Hugh Walpole, The Secret CityHenry Festing Jones, Samuel Butler, Author of Erewhon (1835–1902) – A Memoir (Samuel Butler)
1920D. H. Lawrence, The Lost GirlG. M. Trevelyan, Lord Grey of the Reform Bill (Earl Grey)
1921Walter de la Mare, Memoirs of a MidgetLytton Strachey, Queen Victoria (Queen Victoria)
1922David Garnett, Lady into FoxPercy Lubbock, Earlham (autobiography)
1923Arnold Bennett, Riceyman StepsRonald Ross, Memoirs, Etc. (autobiography)
1924E. M. Forster, A Passage to IndiaWilliam Wilson, The House of Airlie (The Earls of Airlie)
1925Liam O'Flaherty, The InformerGeoffrey Scott, The Portrait of Zelide (Isabelle de Charrière)
1926Radclyffe Hall, Adam's BreedReverend Dr H. B. Workman, John Wyclif: A Study of the English Medieval Church (John Wyclif)
1927Francis Brett Young, Portrait of ClareH. A. L. Fisher, James Bryce, Viscount Bryce of Dechmont, O.M. (James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce)
1928Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting ManJohn Buchan, Montrose (James Graham)[note 1]
1929J. B. Priestley, The Good CompanionsLord David Cecil, The Stricken Deer: or The Life of Cowper (William Cowper)
1930E. H. Young, Miss MoleFrancis Yeats-Brown, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (autobiography)
1931Kate O'Brien, Without My CloakJ. Y. T. Greig, David Hume (David Hume)
1932Helen de Guerry Simpson, BoomerangStephen Gwynn, The Life of Mary Kingsley (Mary Kingsley)
1933A. G. Macdonell, England, Their EnglandViolet Clifton, The Book of Talbot (John Talbot Clifton)
1934Robert Graves, I, Claudius and Claudius the GodJ. E. Neale, Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth I of England)
1935L. H. Myers, The Root and the FlowerRaymond Wilson Chambers, Thomas More (Thomas More)
1936Winifred Holtby, South RidingEdward Sackville West, A Flame in Sunlight: The Life and Work of Thomas de Quincey (Thomas de Quincey)
1937Neil M. Gunn, Highland RiverLord Eustace Percy, John Knox (John Knox)
1938C. S. Forester, A Ship of the Line and Flying ColoursSir Edmund Chambers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
1939Aldous Huxley, After Many a SummerDavid C. Douglas, English Scholars[note 2]
1940Charles Morgan, The VoyageHilda F. M. Prescott, Spanish Tudor: Mary I of England (Mary I of England)
1941Joyce Cary, A House of ChildrenJohn Gore, King George V (George V)
1942Arthur Waley, Translation of Monkey by Wu Cheng'enLord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, Henry Ponsonby: Queen Victoria's Private Secretary (Henry Ponsonby)
1943Mary Lavin, Tales from Bective BridgeG. G. Coulton, Fourscore Years (autobiography)
1944Forrest Reid, Young TomC. V. Wedgwood, William the Silent (William the Silent)
1945L. A. G. Strong, TravellersD. S. MacColl, Philip Wilson Steer (Philip Wilson Steer)
1946Oliver Onions, Poor Man's TapestryRichard Aldington, A Life of Wellington: The Duke (Arthur Wellesley)
1947L. P. Hartley, Eustace and HildaCharles E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckam to Ray (Alexander Neckam and John Ray)
1948Graham Greene, The Heart of the MatterPercy A. Scholes, The Great Dr. Burney (Charles Burney)
1949Emma Smith, The Far CryJohn Connell, W. E. Henley (W. E. Henley)
1950Robert Henriques, Through the ValleyCecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale (Florence Nightingale)
1951Chapman Mortimer, Father GooseNoel Annan, Leslie Stephen (Leslie Stephen)
1952Evelyn Waugh, Men at ArmsG. M. Young, Stanley Baldwin (Stanley Baldwin)
1953Margaret Kennedy, Troy ChimneysCarola Oman, Sir John Moore (John Moore)
1954C. P. Snow, The New Men and The MastersKeith Feiling, Warren Hastings (Warren Hastings)
1955Ivy Compton-Burnett, Mother and SonR. W. Ketton-Cremer, Thomas Gray (Thomas Gray)
1956Rose Macaulay, The Towers of TrebizondSt John Greer Ervine, George Bernard Shaw (George Bernard Shaw)
1957Anthony Powell, At Lady Molly'sMaurice Cranston, Life of John Locke (John Locke)
1958Angus Wilson, The Middle Age of Mrs. EliotJoyce Hemlow, The History of Fanny Burney (Fanny Burney)
1959Morris West, The Devil's AdvocateChristopher Hassall, Edward Marsh (Edward Marsh)
1960Rex Warner, Imperial CaesarCanon Adam Fox, The Life of Dean Inge (Dean Inge)
1961Jennifer Dawson, The Ha-HaM. K. Ashby, Joseph Ashby of Tysoe (Joseph Ashby)
1962Ronald Hardy, Act of DestructionMeriol Trevor, Newman: The Pillar and the Cloud and Newman: Light in Winter (John Henry Newman)
1963Gerda Charles, A Slanting LightGeorgina Battiscombe, John Keble: A Study in Limitations (John Keble)
1964Frank Tuohy, The Ice SaintsElizabeth Longford, Victoria R.I. (Queen Victoria)
1965Muriel Spark, The Mandelbaum GateMary Caroline Moorman, William Wordsworth: The Later Years 1803–1850 (William Wordsworth)
1966Christine Brooke-Rose, Such
Aidan Higgins, Langrishe, Go Down
Geoffrey Keynes, The Life of William Harvey (William Harvey)
1967Margaret Drabble, Jerusalem the GoldenWinifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë: The Evolution of Genius (Charlotte Brontë)
1968Maggie Ross, The GasteropodGordon Haight, George Eliot (George Eliot)
1969Elizabeth Bowen, Eva TroutAntonia Fraser, Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary, Queen of Scots)
1970Lily Powell, The Bird of ParadiseJasper Ridley, Lord Palmerston (Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston)
1971Nadine Gordimer, A Guest of HonourJulia Namier, Lewis Namier (Lewis Namier)
1972John Berger, GQuentin Bell, Virginia Woolf (Virginia Woolf)
1973Iris Murdoch, The Black PrinceRobin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (Alexander the Great)
1974Lawrence Durrell, Monsieur: or, The Prince of DarknessJohn Wain, Samuel Johnson (Samuel Johnson)
1975Brian Moore, The Great Victorian CollectionKarl Miller, Cockburn's Millennium (Henry Cockburn)
1976John Banville, Doctor CopernicusRonald Hingley, A New Life of Chekhov (Anton Chekhov)
1977John le Carré, The Honourable SchoolboyGeorge Painter, Chateaubriand: Volume 1 – The Longed-For Tempests (François-René de Chateaubriand)
1978Maurice Gee, PlumbRobert Gittings, The Older Hardy (Thomas Hardy)
1979William Golding, Darkness VisibleBrian Finney, Christopher Isherwood: A Critical Biography (Christopher Isherwood)
1980J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the BarbariansRobert B. Martin, Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart (Alfred Tennyson)
1981Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast
Victoria Glendinning, Edith Sitwell: Unicorn Among Lions (Edith Sitwell)
1982Bruce Chatwin, On the Black HillRichard Ellmann, James Joyce (James Joyce)
1983Jonathan Keates, Allegro PostillionsAlan Walker, Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years (Franz Liszt)
1984J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus
Lyndall Gordon, Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life (Virginia Woolf)
1985Robert Edric, Winter GardenDavid Nokes, Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed (Jonathan Swift)
1986Jenny Joseph, PersephoneDame Felicitas Corrigan, Helen Waddell (Helen Waddell)
1987George Mackay Brown, The Golden Bird: Two Orkney StoriesRuth Dudley Edwards, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (Victor Gollancz)
1988Piers Paul Read, A Season in the WestBrian McGuinness, Wittgenstein, A Life: Young Ludwig (1889–1921) (Ludwig Wittgenstein)
1989James Kelman, A DisaffectionIan Gibson, Federico García Lorca: A Life (Federico García Lorca)
1990William Boyd, Brazzaville BeachClaire Tomalin, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (Ellen Ternan and Charles Dickens)
1991Iain Sinclair, DownriverAdrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (Charles Darwin)
1992Rose Tremain, Sacred CountryCharles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Christopher Marlowe)
1993Caryl Phillips, Crossing the RiverRichard Holmes, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage (Samuel Johnson, Richard Savage)
1994Alan Hollinghurst, The Folding StarDoris Lessing, Under My Skin (autobiography)
1995Christopher Priest, The PrestigeGitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (Albert Speer)
1996Graham Swift, Last Orders
Alice Thompson, Justine
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Thomas Cranmer)
1997Andrew Miller, Ingenious PainR. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life, Volume 1 – The Apprentice Mage 1865–1914 (W. B. Yeats)
1998Beryl Bainbridge, Master GeorgiePeter Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More (Thomas More)
1999Timothy Mo, Renegade, or Halo2Kathryn Hughes, George Eliot: The Last Victorian (George Eliot)
2000Zadie Smith, White TeethMartin Amis, Experience (autobiography)
2001Sid Smith, Something Like a HouseRobert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: Volume 3 – Fighting for Britain 1937–1946 (John Maynard Keynes)
2002Jonathan Franzen, The CorrectionsJenny Uglow, The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future 1730–1810 (Lunar Society of Birmingham)
2003Andrew O'Hagan, PersonalityJanet Browne, Charles Darwin: Volume 2 – The Power of Place (Charles Darwin)
2004David Peace, GB84Jonathan Bate, John Clare: A Biography (John Clare)
2005Ian McEwan, Saturday[12]Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream (Edvard Munch)[12]
2006Cormac McCarthy, The RoadByron Rogers, The Man Who Went Into the West: The Life of R. S. Thomas (R. S. Thomas)
2007Rosalind Belben, Our Horses in Egypt[13]Rosemary Hill, God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Augustus Pugin)[13]
2008Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture[14]Michael Holroyd, A Strange Eventful History (The families of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving)[14]
2009A. S. Byatt, The Children's Book[15]John Carey, William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies (William Golding)[15]
2010Tatjana Soli, The Lotus Eaters[16]Hilary Spurling, Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck in China (Pearl Buck)[16]
2011Padgett Powell, You and I[17]Fiona MacCarthy, The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Edward Burne-Jones)[17]
2012Alan Warner, The Deadman's Pedal[3]Tanya Harrod, The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew, Modern Pots, Colonialism and the Counterculture (Michael Cardew)[3]Tim Price, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning[3]
2013Jim Crace, Harvest[18]Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Penelope Fitzgerald)[18]Rory Mullarkey, Cannibals[19]
2014Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know[20]Richard Benson, The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Family[20]Gordon Dahlquist, Tomorrow Come Today[21]
2015Benjamin Markovits, You Don't Have to Live Like This[22]James Shapiro, 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (William Shakespeare)[22]Gary Owen, Iphigenia in Splott[23]
2016Eimear McBride, The Lesser Bohemians[24]Laura Cumming, The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez (Diego Velázquez)[24]David Ireland, Cyprus Avenue[25]
2017Eley Williams, Attrib. and other stories[26]Craig Brown, Ma'am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret (Princess Margaret)[26]Tanika Gupta, Lions and Tigers[27]
2018Olivia Laing, Crudo[28]Lindsey Hilsum, In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin (Marie Colvin)[28]Clare Barron, Dance Nation[29]
2019Lucy Ellmann, Ducks, Newburyport[30]George Szirtes, The Photographer at Sixteen (autobiography)[30]Yasmin Joseph, J'Ouvert[31]
2020Shola von Reinhold, Lote[32]Doireann Ni Ghriofa, A Ghost in the Throat (autobiography)[32]N/A
2021Keith Ridgway, A Shock[33]Amit Chaudhuri, Finding the Raga: An Improvisation on Indian Music[33]N/A
  1. Scholarly revision of Buchan's earlier "The Marquis of Montrose" (1913)
  2. Includes studies of antiquaries including Elias Ashmole, William Dugdale, Thomas Hearne, George Hickes, Thomas Madox, John Nalson, Edward Thwaites and Humfrey Wanley

Best of the James Tait Black (2012)

In 2012, a special prize was given called the 'Best of the James Tait Black' (in addition to the normal prize for that year).[34][35] The award celebrated the fiction winners over the past 93 years, as part of the 250th anniversary of the study of English Literature at the university. A shortlist of six previous winners competed for the title of Best. A judging panel of celebrity alumni and writers decided on the winner, which was announced on 6 December 2012 as Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus.[36]



  1. Brian W. Shaffer (2008). A Companion to the British and Irish Novel 1945 – 2000. John Wiley & Sons. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-4051-5616-5. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  2. "In memory of Janet Coats – 90th Anniversary of Scotland's oldest Literary Prize". wordpress.com. 19 August 2009.
  3. Iona McLaren (24 August 2013). "Winners announced of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize 2013". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  4. Mary E. Gibson (August 1978). "Sir Ronald Ross and his contemporaries" (PDF). Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 71 (8): 611–612. doi:10.1177/014107687807100815. PMC 1436581. PMID 20894263. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  5. "Video report of the James Tait Black Prize ceremony, August 2007". University of Edinburgh. 27 August 2007. Archived from the original on 23 December 2012.
  6. "University boosts James Tait Black Prizes". University of Edinburgh. 28 November 2005. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007.
  7. Pauli, Michelle (2 May 2006). "Ali Smith hits the shortlists again". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  8. "James Tait Black Memorial Prize Ceremony". The University of Edinburgh. 8 June 2007. Archived from the original on 26 October 2007.
  9. "Book submissions".
  10. "Drama submissions".
  11. "Previous winners". James Tait Black Memorial Prize website. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  12. John Ezard (8 June 2006). "A prize, at last, for McEwan novel". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  13. "New winners for oldest book prize". BBC News. 22 August 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  14. Alison Flood (21 August 2009). "Michael Holroyd wins James Tait Black prize 42 years after his wife". The Guardian.
  15. "AS Byatt and John Carey win James Tait Black Memorial Prizes". The Telegraph. 20 August 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  16. "Dazzling tale of Ms Saigon takes top award". The Scotsman. 20 August 2011.
  17. Jen Bowden (25 August 2012). "Fiona MacCarthy and Padgett Powell win James Tait Black prizes". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  18. "Authors join book prize's hall of fame". University of Edinburgh. 4 April 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  19. "2014 drama awards". University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  20. Alison Flood (17 August 2015). "James Tait Black prize goes to Zia Haider Rahman's debut novel". The Guardian.
  21. "Play by bestselling author wins drama prize". University of Edinburgh. 28 March 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  22. "James Tait Black Prize winners announced". BBC. 15 August 2016. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  23. Drama prize, University of Edinburgh
  24. "Eimear McBride wins James Tait Black prize for The Lesser Bohemians". Guardian. 15 August 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  25. Drama prize, University of Edinburgh
  26. "Literary duo join oldest book prizes' hall of fame". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  27. Lions and Tigers wins the James Tait Black Prize for Drama 2018, theedinburghreporter.co.uk, 20 August 2018.
  28. "Tales of love and war win centenary book awards". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  29. "Dance troupe drama wins leading literary award". The University of Edinburgh. 19 August 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  30. Cain, Sian (21 August 2020). "Lucy Ellmann lands James Tait Black prize, 38 years after her father's win". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  31. "Vibrant carnival production wins drama prize". The University of Edinburgh. 1 October 2020. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  32. "Electrifying tales claim UK's oldest book awards". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  33. "Pitch perfect tales win James Tait Black Prizes". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
  34. Russell Leadbetter (21 October 2012). "Book prize names six of the best in search for winner". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  35. "Authors in running for 'best of best' James Tait Black award". BBC News. 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  36. Alison Flood (6 December 2012). "Angela Carter named best ever winner of James Tait Black award". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
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