Eccles British Library Writer’s Award

2018 Eccles British Library Award Winners Tessa McWatt and Stuart Evers by Ander McIntyre

The award of £20,000 for a current project allows writers sustained engagement with the Americas collections.

The Eccles British Library Writer’s Award was first awarded in 2012 as part of the Eccles Centre’s charge to promote awareness of the British Library collections relating to North America 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. The Award 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 any part of the Americas (North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean).

Writer’s Award 2019

The 2019 competition is now open. The winner will hold the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award for a period of one year from 1 January 2019. The Award will be made in four quarterly grants of £5,000. The Writer will have privileged access to the expertise of the British Library’s curatorial staff and will be entitled to Membership of the British Library. 

On publication of the book the Centre will host a launch event at the British Library. The Eccles Centre and British Library’s support of this Award will be acknowledged in the book when published, and in any other publications, web articles or media features resulting from the Award.

The Award holder will have the opportunity to co-operate with the Head of the Eccles Centre to develop and facilitate activities and events related to their research. They will also be invited to promote public awareness of the Eccles Centre and its aims through the web, social media and in print. 

The British Library holds one of world’s foremost collections of materials relating to the Americas, spanning many languages and types of material. Access to Library’s catalogue can be found at www.bl.uk. The Eccles Centre does not house a collection separate to that of the Library but the bibliographies on the Centre’s web pages provide a snapshot of some of the items in the Library’s collection. Enquiries regarding both the Award and the America’s collections should be sent to the Eccles Centre: eccles-centre@bl.uk.

How to apply

Applications should include a summary of the book being written; include a brief CV; explain the nature and extent of the anticipated use of the British Library’s collections relating to the Americas; propose ways that the project will promote awareness and use of the British Library’s Americas collections; and include evidence of an established publisher’s intention to publish the finished book in hardcopy. Applications should total no more than 5 pages and should be submitted before 17.00 on Friday 31 August 2018, via email attachment to eccles-centre@bl.uk.

The judges reserve the right to request further information, including full book proposals, at a later stage of the application process.

Writer’s Award 2018

The winners of the 2018 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award are the novelist and short story writer Stuart Evers, and the author, librettist and screenwriter Tessa McWatt.

Evers is researching his novel, THE DISAPPEARANCES, the story of Thomas Lodge, and his determination to write the definitive account of history’s most confounding disappearances. Lodge has dedicated his life to researching and solving cases that have baffled experts for decades. But what becomes The Disappearances is far from the book he intended to write – and with the past closing in on him, presenting clear parallels with his own experience, Lodge finally leaves the library and heads out into the real world. There he will confront what he has lost, and come to terms with how it came to disappear.

McWatt is researching a memoir entitled, POROUS: A MEMOIR OF RACE AND STORIES, in which she will set out to explore the hybridity of her racial and cultural heritage, and to try to understand the social whiteness, political blackness and cultural duality of the privilege she has. The book will trace the history of her ancestry by embracing and undermining race at the same time, by tracing her heritage through investigating the factual context for the mythical family tales in a trail of DNA from Britain, Europe, Africa, India, China and the indigenous people of British Guiana.

The connection with the Eccles Centre allows Evers and McWatt 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.

Acting Head of the Eccles Centre, Dr Cara Rodway, said, ‘in awarding the 2018 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award prizes to Stuart Evers and Tessa McWatt the judges have once again demonstrated that the British Library can support creative and original research. With projects which are set to range across the US, Canada and the Caribbean, this year’s award highlights the breadth and depth of the Library’s wonderful collections on North America, and their immense value in providing a foundation for writers of enormous talent. The prizes will offer these 2018 holders the chance to explore the trans-Atlantic and global themes through the unique resources of the British Library, and the projects undertaken by Stuart Evers and Tessa McWatt, as with the work undertaken by the previous 12 award holders will, in the future, guide readers through the wonderful and surprising materials which can be uncovered in the British Library’s 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, formerly President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Dr Cara Rodway, Acting Head 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 Mercedes Aguirre, 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.

Details of the specifics of the award can be found in the 2018 competition leaflet

Writers Photobook, 2012-2017

As part of the Eccles Centre’s 25th anniversary programme, a photobook was compiled in celebration of the first dozen holders of the Writer’s Award. Featuring portraits of all the award winners by Eccles Photography Fellow Ander McIntyre, it is available to view here

Previous Winners

The winners of the 2012 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. Rowbotham's group biography Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers, and Radicals in Britain and the United States was published by Verso in 2016.

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 won the 2015 Costa Biography Award and 2016 Royal Society Science Book prize. Burnside's novel Ashland and Vine was published by Jonathan Cape in 2017.

The critic and writer, Olivia Laing and the journalist and author, Erica Wagner were the 2014 winners. Laing's book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone was published by Picador in 2016 and was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn prize. Wagner's Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge is was published in 2017.

The 2015 winners were Professor Sarah Churchwell and novelist Benjamin Markovits, and the 2016 winners were author and editor William Atkins, and author Alison MacLeod.  Markovit's novel A Weekend in New York and Atkins's The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places were both published by Faber in 2018. The 2017 winners were author Hannah Kohler and writer and musician Bob Stanley

Header image: 2018 Eccles British Library Award Winners Tessa McWatt and Stuart Evers by Ander McIntyre

Case studies

…I can't imagine writing another book without the British Library's collections…

Author Naomi Wood was one of the Eccles British Library Writer's Award holders (formerly the Writer in Residence programme). She used our collections to research her novel Mrs Hemingway, on Ernest Hemingway and his wives.