Following on the heels of some ostensibly more low-key prize announcements, Britian’s oldest literary award has revealed the shortlist for its ‘best of the best’ award. The James Tait Black Memorial Prize, awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh to the year’s best in the fields of fiction and biography, will celebrate 250 years of the study of literature at the seat of learning by naming the greatest book to have won the prize since its inception in 1919, in a manner similar to the ‘Best of the Booker’ award only with 100% less Salman Rushdie victory guaranteed, so really, everyone’s a winner.
The nominees for the 250th anniversary prize were compiled by literature students and academics at the University of Edinburgh, with six titles in the running spanning the prize’s 93 year history: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark, Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, A Disaffection by James Kelman, Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
The winner will be chosen by a judging panel including Kirsty Wark and the university’s writer in residence, Morvern Callar author Alan Warner. Given that a full half of the nominees – Greene, Spark, Carter – have gone on to cash in their entire collection of oversized novelty cheques, as it were, it seems safe to assume that the aim of the prize is ultimately to get people reading these books again, rather than to gift their authors any additional prestige. That said, we can still hold out hope that Kelman will win and tell them where to shove it (even though, at the risk of editorialising, anything that it takes for the world to finally wake up to Kelman being one of its greatest living authors would be welcome).
This year’s standard James Tait Black Memorial Prizes of £10,000 each were awarded to Padgett Powell for his novel You and I and Fiona McCarthy for her biography of British artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones. 2013 sees the introduction of a third award, for drama, in conjunction with the National Theatre of Scotland.