The Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer's Award

Eight black and white images of the shortlisted authors on the left. On the right, the text: The Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award

Shortlist announced for the 2020 Writer’s Award

The British Library and Hay Festival are delighted to reveal the shortlist for the 2020 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award. The eight-strong list features writers from the UK, Colombia, Mexico, USA and Brazil and showcases a vibrant selection of global storytelling through both fiction and non-fiction.

‘The 2020 Award received more interest than we’ve ever had before and we are excited to present a list that is bursting with excellence and creativity, and showcases the very best of borderless storytelling.’ – Phil Hatfield, Chair of Judges

The two winners of the £20,000 prize will be announced at the British Library on 25 November.

The Shortlist

Jon Lee Anderson

Project: Fidel Castro: what is Castro's legacy? A book about the late Cuban leader. 

‘Writing about Fidel Castro, Jon Lee Anderson explores the culture, history and geopolitics of the last 70 years in the Americas, as well about the search for idealism and its aftermath.’ Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Judge

Chloe Aridjis

Project: Reports from the Land of the Bats: set in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, the novel explores the complex encounters between artistic, anthropological and local interests. 

‘Chloe Aridjis's fascinating application showed her to be a writer truly coming into her own and we were delighted to shortlist her.’ Erica Wagner, Judge

Gloria Susana Esquivel

Project: The Ones That Were There: artists, writers, politicians, intellectuals and activists. A book highlighting 15 Colombian women who lived during the 20th century.

‘Gloria Esquivel is a Colombian rising star who is focused on building bridges between gender issues and culture. Her proposal ties very well with feminist discussions taking place around the world.’ Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Judge

Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Project: Love in the time of - : An experimental novel about democracy and dictatorship, sisterhood and sexuality, drawing on the oral and literary traditions of Brazil and the UK.

‘No other novelist is writing about British Latin life and Yara Rodrigues Fowler is uniquely placed to tell this story in a dual narrative, depicting contemporary London during the 1990s and the dictatorship period in Brazil.’ Catherine Eccles, Judge

Carlos Granés

Project: American Delirium. Artistic Vanguard and Political Radicalism in Latin America: a study of the evolution of culture and its influence on Latin American politics throughout the 20th century.

‘To research his work Carlos will use the wide range of the Library’s Americas collection and we are excited to see how his thinking develops through the unique insights provided by this fascinating collection.’ Phil Hatfield, Chair of Judges

Daniel Saldaña Paris

Project: Principio de mediocridad: a novel composed of four first person narrations, each an intense relationship with the history and geography of the city of Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Daniel Saldaña Paris’s forthcoming novel is a multi-layered, multi-voiced narrative that blends political, historical and cultural references, overlaps in time and is intertwined with the history of the city Cuernavaca in Mexico. Its ambition in scope, form and ideas impressed us greatly.’  Catherine Eccles, Judge

Nicholas Pierpan

Project: Year of the Crisis: a novel following the travails of one family over the course of a year, culminating in President Carter’s remarkable ‘crisis of confidence’ speech of 1979. 

Year of the Crisis will be a timely examination of North American 20th-century history, and we were delighted to place it on the shortlist. Pierpan is a writer to watch, and we were impressed by his application.’ Erica Wagner, Judge

Nikesh Shukla

Project: Guest Is God, a psychological thriller set around American motel life in the 1990s.

As well as being excited about the book, the panel were intrigued to see how Nikesh’s work within the collection, focussing on the history of immigration to America and the cultural context in which the book is set, would affect the development of the work and its style.’ Phil Hatfield, Chair of Judges

The Writer's Award 2020 judges, photographed by Rii Schroer. Phil Hatfield, Erica Wagner, Catherine Eccles, and Cristina Fuentes La Roche.

Alongside Philip Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the shortlist was chosen by Erica Wagner, writer and former Writer’s Award winner for her book Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge; Catherine Eccles, Editorial Director of Eccles-Fisher Associates; Mercedes Aguirre, Lead Curator of American collections at the British Library and Cristina Fuentes La Roche, International Director at Hay Festival.

What is the Writer’s Award?

The Writer’s Award was founded by the Eccles Centre for American Studies in 2012 to increase awareness and use of the British Library’s American collection (North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean) – one of the world’s foremost and the largest outside of the region. 

It is the only literary prize to combine a substantial prize of £20,000 with a residency at one of the world's most prestigious libraries. Through unique access to the both the Library’s Americas collection and curatorial expertise, the Award inspires and facilitates the next great works of literature by supporting writers during the creative process.

The winners will hold the Writer’s Award for one year from 1 January 2020, receiving four quarterly grants of £5,000. For the first time from 2020, they will also have the opportunity to appear at future Hay Festivals to showcase and talk about their published work. The winner will also have the chance to work with the Eccles Centre to develop and facilitate activities and events related to their research. All shortlisted authors will be authors will be awarded £2,000 towards their research, which will be included in the prize fund for the winning writers.

A number of critically acclaimed books have been published with the support of the Writer’s Award including Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone and The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf.

Submissions for the 2021 prize will open in summer 2020.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Watch 2016 winner Will Atkins and current recipient Sara Taylor talk about what the Writer’s Award means to them.

Previous winners

Writer Rachel Hewitt and novelist Sara Taylor. Hewitt is a Lecturer in Creative Writing, and author, Sara Taylor is a novelist as well as co-director and editor of creative-critical publisher Seam Editions. 

Novelist and short story writer Stuart Evers, and the author, librettist and screenwriter Tessa McWatt.

Author Hannah Kohler and writer and musician Bob Stanley

Author and editor William Atkins, and author Alison MacLeod. Atkin’s book The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places was published by Faber in 2018. 

Professor Sarah Churchwell and novelist Benjamin Markovits. Markovit's book A Weekend in New York was published by Faber in 2018.

Critic and writer Olivia Laing and journalist Erica Wagner. 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 book Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge was published in 2017 by Bloomsbury.

Historian Andrea Wulf and poet and novelist John Burnside. Wulf’s book The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the lost Hero of Science was published by John Murray in October 2015 and won the 2015 Costa Biography Award and 2016 Royal Society Science Book Prize. Burnside's book Ashland and Vine was published by Jonathan Cape in 2017.

Writer Sheila Rowbotham and novelist Naomi Wood. Wood’s book Mrs Hemingway  was published by Picador in 2014. Rowbotham's book Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers, and Radicals in Britain and the United States was published by Verso in 2016.

Writer’s 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

Images: Jon Lee Anderson © Davide Monteleone; Chloe Aridjis © Homero Aridjis; Gloria Susana Esquivel © Andres Raigosa; Yara Rodrigues Fowler © Atri Banerjee; Carlos Granes © Fiorella Battistini; Daniel Saldana Paris © Andrea Tejeda K., 2015

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Case studies

More Case studies
…This placement introduced me to a career path I had not considered before.…

During her PhD research placement, Laura examined the Library’s holdings of North American migrant literature.

…Everyone is really willing to help each other out…

Melissa is doing collaborative PhD research on photographs of the British West India Regiments between 1865-1914.

…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.