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Eccles Centre Writers in Residence

2016 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award

The Eccles Centre at the British Library is delighted to announce that William Atkins, author and editor and Alison MacLeod, novelist and short story writer, are the joint winners of the 2016 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award.

Now in its fifth year, The Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award was set up as part of the Eccles Centre’s charge to promote awareness of the British Library collections relating to the USA and Canada and to help facilitate the use of these collections.  Each of the winners is awarded £20,000 and will use the British Library’s collections to research their upcoming publications during their residency which starts in January 2016.  Following on from his first book, The Moor, a travel narrative and cultural history about the English moors, Atkins will be researching a new travel narrative interrogating the Western concept of the desert through a series of journeys – through Australia, Central Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa but above all the American West.

MacLeod, author of Unexploded, is writing a novel which takes its inspiration from the events of the 1960 trial of Penguin Books in which the publisher famously found itself in court for its decision to publish the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley's Lover. The story will unfold across a London still marked by the Blitz, following an unexpected trail of suspicions which lead ultimately to the USA and the very core of Establishment forces.

The connection with the Eccles Centre will allow Atkins and MacLeod  both quietly to research their projects in the great surroundings of the British Library, and to use the Centre’s programme and networks to engage with other researchers, students and members of the public.    

Philip Davies says, “in awarding the 2016 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence prizes to William Atkins and Alison MacLeod the judges have once again demonstrated the breadth and depth of the Library’s wonderful collections on North America, and of their immense value in providing a foundation for writers of enormous talent.  The prizes will offer these 2016 award holders the chance to explore trans-Atlantic and global themes from an American focal point through the unique resources of the British Library, and the projects undertaken by William Atkins and Alison MacLeod will, in the future, guide readers through the times and the spaces that they have found within those collections.”

The judges for the Award were Professor Sarah Churchwell, Professorial Fellow in American literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, Richard Carwardine, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Professor Philip Davies, Director of the Eccles Centre, Catherine Eccles literary scout and granddaughter of David  and Mary Eccles, who endowed the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the Library in 1991 and Dr Matthew Shaw, Lead Curator for the Americas at the British Library. Such was the high standard of submissions for this year’s award, that again, two awards were given.

About the winners

Alison MacLeod’s third and most recent novel, Unexploded was long-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and was an Observer ‘Book of the Year.’  Her previous works include the novels, The Changeling (1996) and The Wave Theory of Angels (2005), and the short story collection, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (2007).  Her short fiction has been nominated for The BBC National Short Story Award and the Sunday Times EFC International Short Story Award.  She is currently completing her next collection which will be published by Bloomsbury in the UK and the USA.  Alongside her writing she has judged a number of literary awards and is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester. She lives in Brighton. 

William Atkins was born in 1976.  After studying art history he worked in publishing.  He continues to work as a freelance editor.  His first book, The Moor, a travel narrative  and cultural history about the English moors was published by Faber & Faber in 2014.  In the Sunday Times John Carey described it as ‘a remarkable book’; Rachel Cooke in the Observer called it ‘a wonderful, teeming book….. quite the classic’; while the Spectator’s Charlotte Mitchell praised it as ‘deeply enjoyable a book worth reading and re-reading.’  The Desert, an account of a series of journeys in the arid places of the world, is due to be published internationally (Faber & Faber in the UK and Doubleday in the USA) in 2018.

About the Award

Former Writers in Residence, 2012-2015 (c) Ander 
Former Writers in Residence, 2012-2015 (c) Ander McIntyre

The Award of £20,000 is open to writers resident in the United Kingdom. Writers should be working on a non-fiction or fiction full-length book, written in the English Language, the research for which requires that they make substantial use of the British Library’s collections relating to North America (the USA and/or Canada).

The Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award was first awarded for the calendar year 2012.  The winners of the 2012 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award were Sheila Rowbotham, the respected British socialist feminist writer and honorary fellow of the Universities of Manchester and Bristol, and the critically acclaimed novelist Naomi Wood.  During her 2012 residency, Wood researched her novel, Mrs Hemingway, which was published by Picador in 2014. The 2013 winners were the historian Andrea Wulf and the poet and novelist John Burnside.   Wulf’s book The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the lost Hero of Science which she researched during her 2013 residency was published by John Murray in October 2015 and has been shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Biography Award.  The critic and writer, Olivia Laing and the journalist and author, Erica Wagner were the 2014 winners and their books are due out in 2016. The 2015 winners were Professor Sarah Churchwell and novelist Benjamin Markovits.

Watch former Writer in Residence, Naomi Wood, explain how the award helped her research her novel Mrs Hemingway (Picador, 2014).

Read blog posts by current and former Writers in Residence on the Americas blog.

Previous recipients

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