The Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award

Portraits of 6 shortlisted writers

We’re delighted to reveal the shortlist for the 2021 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award. The six-strong list features writers from across the globe and showcases world-class storytelling in both English and Spanish.

The 2021 shortlist

Andrés Barba is selected for Ruinas Vivas de América (Living Ruins of America) – a literary and philosophical exploration of the concept of ruins - archaeological, historical and natural – across the American continent. To be published in Spanish by Anagrama.

Doreen Cunningham is selected for her forthcoming memoir about learning from whales how to be a mother in a world in climate crisis, the effects of climate change on oceans and climate justice for Indigenous peoples. The author draws on a journey with her own child, following the grey whale migration from Mexico to the Arctic, and her enduring relationship with an Iñupiat family. To be published in English by Virago.

Lina Meruane is selected for her novel Pie de Guerra (War Footing), which will expose the mutilation suffered by the Chilean veterans of the Pacific War, the dismemberment of their bodies and the suppression of their voices. To be published by Penguin Random House Chile.

Pola Oloixarac is selected for Atlas Literario del Amazonas (Literary Atlas of the Amazon) ­– a work of creative non-fiction revealing the secret history of the Amazon as a region of the world and the people, ideas and stories within it that have remained unexplored. To be published in Spanish by Penguin Random House.

JS Tennant is selected for Mrs Gargantua and the Idea of Cuba – a playful history of Cuba’s relationship with the United States and other superpowers, contextualising the island within a web of power relations to show how it has long been miscastas an imagined or fantastical space, as much as a real one (from Columbus’s distortions to the present day). To be published by William Collins.

Imaobong Umoren is selected for Empire Without End: A New History of Britain and the Caribbean – an expansive new history of the 400 year relationship between Britain and the Caribbean, arguing that the Caribbean was the birthplace of a racial caste system that shaped both nations and continues to be influential today. 

“This year we received more submissions than ever before and it was tough process whittling them down to the six exceptional shortlisted projects we have announced, which range across the American continent and the Caribbean. The judges were thrilled to see such vibrant creativity, original ideas and ambition and look forward to seeing the finished books. This collaboration between the Eccles Centre at the British Library and Hay Festival gives authors the time, space and the curatorial support within the Library’s American collections to write even better books – it’s a great honour to help make it happen.”

--Catherine Eccles, Chair of the judging panel

The two winners will be announced on 25 November.

The Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award is a highly prestigious annual literary award of £20,000 for a current writing project exploring the Americas.

The award facilitates and inspires a new wave of world-class storytelling in the UK and across the Americas, supporting writers in the creative stage of a new project. The prize grants up-close access to the British Library’s Americas collections as well as curatorial expertise through a year-long residency.

The Writer’s Award is celebrated globally through a dynamic event series profiling winners at Hay Festival editions in Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Wales as awardees join forces with celebrated writers and thinkers to explore themes central to the Library’s Americas collections, championing new perspectives to audiences in the UK and Latin America.

Two winners will hold the Writer’s Award for one year from 1 January 2021, and will receive:

  • £20,000, in four quarterly grants
  • unique access to the expertise of the British Library’s curatorial staff
  • the chance to appear at future Hay Festival editions with their published work.

The winners will also have the opportunity to work with the Eccles Centre to develop and facilitate activities and events related to their research.

Watch 2016 winner Will Atkins and 2019 recipient Sara Taylor talk about what the Writer’s Award means to them.

What is the Writer’s Award?

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

The award is open to submissions for writing projects of both fiction and non-fiction relating to North, Central, South America and the Caribbean, and due for publication in English, Spanish or any language indigenous to the Americas.

Who has won the award before? 

A number of critically acclaimed books have been published with the support of the Writer’s Award since it began, 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.


Chloe Aridjis won for her novel, Reports from the Land of the Bats, which explores the complex encounters between artistic, anthropological and local interests and is set in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas. Daniel Saldaña Paris won for 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.


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.

Am I eligible to apply?

Applications are invited from fiction and non-fiction authors undertaking a book-length project, which a publisher based in Latin America, Spain or the UK intends to publish. The work should focus on some part of the Americas and needs to make extensive use of the collections of the British Library; it is expected that awardees will make dedicated use of the Library’s collections over one or more research trips lasting weeks or months.

The judges will consider works published in any language indigenous to the Americas but applications must be in either English or Spanish. The award is open to any author but please note that neither the Eccles Centre nor Hay Festival will arrange visas, travel or accommodation for award holders. Awardees will also be responsible for any payments or charges incurred as a result of international bank transfers.

Membership of the British Library does not automatically include the Reader Pass required to access the Library’s Reading Rooms. Awardees will be responsible for their own application for a Reader Pass

How do I apply?

Details of how to apply for the 2022 award will be revealed later this year.

Eccles, British Library and Hay Festival logo

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.