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 North American 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 North America (the USA, Canada and/or the Caribbean).

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 will be 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 will be 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 will allow 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, says, ‘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 this year 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

Writer’s Award 2017

Hannah Kohler, author and Bob Stanley, author, film producer, and member of St Etienne are the joint winners of the 2017 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award.

The winners of the 2017 award brought the total number of Eccles British Library Writer’s Award holders to a dozen, and the total investment in the future of these writers to almost a quarter of a million pounds, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Eccles Centre.

About the Winners

Hannah Kohler, whose first novel, The Outside Lands, was published by Picador earlier in 2016 and will be published in paperback in January 2017, will be researching her second novel, Catspaw, which follows two women from Chicago to the Sierra foothills during the California Gold Rush of 1849. The Gold Rush told people they could be somebody different, and for Pearl Nye and Emeline Snow, it offers the opportunity to escape the constraints of their lives in Victorian-era America. It’s the story of the struggle to win the self, and keep it; the corrosive and curative powers of desire; and the complications of friendship.

Following on from Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Bob Stanley will be researching his new book, Too Darn Hot: The Story of Popular Music. Pop music existed before rock ‘n’ roll. It had existed for more than fifty years. Too Darn Hot will make sense of the crucial 50-year period from the very first recorded music to the rock ‘n’ roll era; the major stars, the songwriters, the leaps in technology, the heroes and heroines, and their links to the modern pop era. The book will show how the relationship between Britain and America created the sounds of Broadway and Hollywood, and how immigrant cultures rubbed together and shaped the future with songs purpose-built to sell. Together they provided the soundtrack of the twentieth century.

Writers Photobook, 2012-2017

As part of the Eccles Centre’s 25th anniversary programme, a photobook has been 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 due to be published in June 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.

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.