The two winners of the 2014 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award are announced

The Eccles Centre For American Studies is delighted to announce that the 2014 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award has been given to the talented writer and critic Olivia Laing and the critically acclaimed author and journalist Erica Wagner.

Now in its third 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.

Laing’s book is entitled The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone and is a cultural history of urban loneliness, exploring the complex crosscurrents that exist between loneliness, sex, technology and art. It's set in New York and like her previous two books will be a hybrid work of non-fiction, bringing together elements of biography, criticism, travelogue and memoir. Subjects include Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz; Aids, apocalyptic cities and the art of the machine age. It will be published by Canongate in the UK and Picador in the US.

Wagner’s is a biography of Washington Roebling, the engineer who built the Brooklyn Bridge. Although the Brooklyn Bridge is an icon famous all over the world, the story of its builder - a story of heroism, sacrifice and determination - is too little known, and Wagner's book will bring this engaging and articulate man to life. A native New Yorker, Wagner has had a lifelong attachment to the Brooklyn Bridge and often travels back to New York to cross the East River on its span. The Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, Builder of the Brooklyn Bridge will be published by Bloomsbury in the UK and US.

The winners are awarded £20,000 each and their residency will start in January 2014. Working with Professor Philip Davies, Director of the Eccles Centre, Laing and Wagner 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. Davies says, ‘Once again this prize is supporting exciting projects, and helping great writers in their exploration of the British Library’s rich collections of North American materials – the best in the world outside the USA. With the publication in 2014 of Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood (2012 Writer in Residence) we look forward to a period peppered with achievement by our past, current and incoming Award winners.’

The submissions were of an extremely high standard, from writers with extensive track records to those relatively new to the field; from independent scholars and from university based academics, resulting again in two awards being given. The judges for the Award were Professor Richard Carwardine, President of Corpus Christi College, 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, Carole Holden, Head of the British Library's Americas and Australasian collections and Oxford, novelist Tracy Chevalier, who says, As an historical novelist, I spend a lot of time doing research, and know how valuable, inspiring and sustaining library archives can be. Nothing may beat travelling to America itself, but the Eccles archives run a close second.’

For further information or to arrange an interview with Olivia Laing or Erica Wagner please contact Katie Hambly on or 01752 778211/07875 088 371


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Notes to Editors

About the winners:

Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. Her first book, TO THE RIVER, is the story of the Ouse, the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941. It was published by Canongate in 2011 and described as 'sublime' by The Times, 'magical' by The Telegraph and 'deeply intelligent' by Literary Review. It was a book of the year in the Evening Standard, Independent and Financial Times and was shortlisted for the 2012 Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

Her second book, THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRING, is an investigation into the liquid links between writers and alcohol. Its cast includes Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. It was published in the UK by Canongate and will be published in the US by Picador in 2014. It has been described by Hilary Mantel as ‘one of the best books I've read on the creative uses of adversity’, by the Observer as ‘original, brave and very moving’, ‘’beautifully accomplished’ by The Independent and ‘lucid and exuberant’ by The Financial Times

Between 2007 and 2009, Laing was Deputy Books Editor of the Observer. She writes and reviews widely, for the Observer, New Statesman, Sunday Times and Guardian among other publications.

She regularly lectures and teaches on landscape and writing. Recent awards include a Travelling Scholarship from the Society of Authors, a MacDowell fellowship and grants from the Arts Council and the Authors' Foundation. She lives in Cambridge.

Erica Wagner was born in New York and lives in London. GRAVITY, her collection of short stories, was published by Granta in 1997 (“Subtle, articulate, moving and resonant... an impressive debut” - A. L. Kennedy); ARIEL’S GIFT, a book about Ted Hughes’s BIRTHDAY LETTERS, was published by Faber and Faber in 2000 (ARIEL’S GIFT is clear, informative, reliable and level-headed, no slight praise in this vicinity” - David Sexton, Evening Standard), and her novel, SEIZURE, was published by Faber and Faber in 2007 (“The most gripping and deeply affecting novel I've read this year” - Tom Adair, Scotsman).

She has been a judge of the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Forward Prize. Her short stories are frequently anthologised and she is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4 and a regular reviewer for The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Economist. Between 1996 and 2013 she was Literary Editor of The Times.

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, the respected British socialist feminist writer and honorary fellow of the Universities of Manchester and Bristol, and Naomi Wood, known for her critically acclaimed debut novel THE GODLESS BOYS. The 2013 winners were the historian Andrea Wulf and the poet and novelist John Burnside.

  • 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).

About the Eccles Centre for American Studies:

  • The Eccles Centre for American Studies was founded and endowed by the late David and Mary Eccles. Based at the British Library the Centre has two broad aims: to increase awareness and use of the Library's North American holdings, and to promote and support the study of North America in the United Kingdom through the collections and a programme of events. The Centre's programme includes public lectures, discussion panels and concerts, academic conferences and seminars, teacher and student events and web based study resources. The focus of the Eccles Centre is on the USA and Canada, but can extend to include the hemispheric, comparative and international topics in which these countries play a major part. The Centre works in co-operation with the Library's American Studies curatorial team, and with many other partners interested in the advancement of knowledge about America.

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