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Eccles Centre Writers in Residence

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2013 Writers in Residence

Read the 2013 Writers in Residence blog posts

The critically acclaimed historian Andrea Wulf and the talented poet and novelist John Burnside, winners of the 2013 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award, have been awarded £20,000 each and will start their residency at the Eccles Centre on 2 January 2013.

Tracy Chevalier, Andrea 
		Wulf and John Burnside (c) Ander McIntyre
Tracy Chevalier, Andrea Wulf and John Burnside
© Ander McIntyre

Now in its second year, the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award was set up as part of the 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 will use the collections to research their upcoming publications. Wulf’s is entitled The Invention of Nature and is a book of narrative non-fiction, telling the story of the German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and how his visionary ideas of nature changed the way we see the world.

Wulf says of winning the award, "If someone had told me when I was working on my MA in the British Library that one day I would be the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence – I would not have believed it. Since I have arrived in Britain in the mid-1990s I have done much of my research in the British Library – every book I have written, I have researched here. I can’t think of a better place to write a book about Alexander von Humboldt who, probably more than anyone else believed in the exchange of knowledge and the connections between thoughts, science and nature."

Burnside’s work is a novel, which is very loosely a response to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, following a brother and sister from their '30s childhood in the South through the volatile ‘60s and the rest of the 'American Century’. "The award is a huge boon to my project," says Burnside. "It will allow me to do the kind of fine-detailed, close up research that is essential to the novel, which is about ordinary and not so ordinary American lives during the middle years of the 20th century. What I am really looking forward to is getting into the ephemera and the day to day texture of public life in my period, and to looking back on the hopes and fears of two generations of Americans who lived through some of the most astonishing moments in human history, from the A-Bomb to the radical movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s."

Working with Philip Davies, Director of the Eccles Centre, Wulf and Burnside will also develop and participate in seminars, workshops and other events relating to their projects and raise the profile of the Eccles Centre via the web and social media campaigns.

The judges for the Award were Professor Richard Carwardine, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, novelist Tracy Chevalier, 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 Carole Holden, Head of the British Library's Americas and Australasian collections. They were delighted with the high calibre of entries and the number, which has increased considerably since the previous year, resulting in the judges doubling the award for the second year running, awarding two Writers in Residence.

Tracy Chevalier says of this year’s winners, "I have a gut feeling that Andrea Wulf and John Burnside will use the British Library’s vast resources on North America not only for research that will push ahead their own projects , but also in a way that will shine a light on all the possibilities that the Library holds within."

About the winners:

Andrea Wulf was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now lives in Britain where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of several books including The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth Of An Obsession (which won the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award and was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008) and Founding Gardeners which was published to great acclaim in 2011 and made it onto the New York Times best seller list. She has written for the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times and the Guardian, and reviews for several newspapers, including the New York Times. Her latest book is Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens which was published in the UK by William Heinemann in 2012 and in the USA by Alfred A Knopf. The German edition has been shortlisted for the Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres Award, (Science Book of the Year). She is a three-time fellow of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, Virginia. Andrea lives in London.

John Burnside was born on 19 March 1955 in Dunfermline, Scotland, and now lives in Fife. He studied English and European Languages at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. A former computer software engineer, he has been a freelance writer since 1966. He is a former Writer in Residence at Dundee University and now teaches at the University of St Andrews. His first collection of poetry, The Hoop, was published in 1988 and won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Other poetry collections include Common Knowledge (1991),Feast Days ( 1992), winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and The Asylum Dance (2000), winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award and shortlisted for both the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and the T. S. Eliot Prize. The Light Trap (2001) was also shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. His poetry collection, The Good Neighbour (2005), was shortlisted for the 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). In 2008, he received a Cholmondeley Award.

He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Burning Elvis(2000), and several novels, including The Dumb House (1997), The Mercy Boys and The Locust Room (2001), which is set in Cambridge in 1975, and explores the consequences of a series of violent rapes. His novel, Living Nowhere (2003), is a powerful and violent story of friendship and loss. Recent novels are The Devil's Footprints (2007), shortlisted for the 2008 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) and Glister (2008), both of which are published by Jonathan Cape in the UK and by Nan A Talese in the USA. John Burnside's memoir, A Lie About My Father, was published in 2006, and a sequel, Waking Up in Toytown, in 2010 and was shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Ackerley Prize. His latest collections of poetry are Gift Songs (2007) and The Hunt in the Forest (2009).

His latest novel is A Summer of Drowning (2011), a suspense mystery narrated by a teenage girl. It was shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Novel Award.

In 2011, his latest poetry collection, Black Cat Bone, won both the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and the T. S, Eliot Prize.

About the Award:

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 and Naomi Wood. 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).

2012 Recipients - Sheila Rowbotham and Naomi Wood

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