Eccles Centre at the British Library announces winners of 2019 Writer’s Award

British Library at St Pancras (c) The British Library Board

The Eccles Centre at the British Library is delighted to announce the creative non-fiction writer Rachel Hewitt and the novelist Sara Taylor as the winners of its 2019 Writer’s Award.

Now in its seventh year, the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award was founded in 2012 as part of the Eccles Centre’s charge to promote awareness of the British Library’s North America collections. Open to writers of both fiction and non-fiction, it is the only literary prize in the UK to support novelists in the creative stages of the writing process. Past winners include Olivia Laing, Erica Wagner and Naomi Wood.

Each of the winners is awarded £20,000 to develop a current writing project and will have access to the British Library’s exceptional Americas collections for research during a year-long residency, starting in January 2019. For the first time, the 2019 residency will be broadened to include access to the British Library’s Mexico and Latin America collections as well as those relating to the USA and Canada.

During their residencies, Hewitt and Taylor will have the opportunity to research and write their forthcoming publications in the inspiring surroundings of the British Library as well as enjoying rare and privileged access to the Library’s curatorial expertise. They will also be invited to work closely with the Head of the Eccles Centre to develop events and activities related to their research, including a launch event once their books are published.

Rachel Hewitt is a writer of creative non-fiction, Lecturer in Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and Deputy Director of the Newcastle Centre of Literary Arts. She is author of Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (2010), and A Revolution of Feeling: The Decade that Forged the Modern Mind (2017). Map of a Nation won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction and was shortlisted for the Galaxy Non-Fiction Awards, the Scottish Book Awards, the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize and BBC History Magazine‘s Book Prize; and A Revolution of Feeling won a Gladstone’s Library Political Writing Residency. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Hewitt’s award will aid her research for her current project: In Her Nature (Chatto & Windus, 2022), about US and UK women’s myriad encounters with the natural world. In Her Nature will centre the voices of largely unsung female naturalists, nature-writers and explorer (from ultra-runners and mountaineers, to marine biologists, paleontologists and gardeners). And it will articulate experiences of nature that are frequently female-specific and unacknowledged, from accounts of fear of vulnerability to violence and assault in solitary or remote landscapes; to experiences of running ultra-marathons with a post-partum female body; to the ways in which Victorian female mountaineers wrestled with voluminous clothing; to female nature-writers’ negotiations with the philosophical tradition that aligns femaleness with primitive nature (and maleness with culture).

Sara Taylor’s novels, published by Random House, explore the social construction of identity, sexuality, and family; her academic work deals with the effect of extra-legal censorship on the U.S. education system. She also acts as co-director and editor of creative-critical publisher Seam Editions. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018.

Taylor’s novel Children of Sorrow will present the experiences of the people who were most intimately affected by the United States’ Eugenics movement from its conception in the late nineteenth century through to the present day. An adolescent boy’s experience of being sent to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded when his seizures can no longer be managed at home; a young girl’s struggle after her assault-induced pregnancy has her labelled promiscuous by the court and therefore unfit to reproduce; a Native American woman’s discovery that she cannot bear children because an appendectomy she received as a teenager was no appendectomy at all: these and many other voices hide in the archives, waiting for readers to live those experiences with them, and so reach a more personal understanding of the human cost of events that are too often reduced to statistics.  

Director of the Eccles Centre, Dr Phil Hatfield, commented: “This year saw an exceptionally high quality of applications and it was tough to select two authors. Rachel and Sara’s projects are ambitious and imaginative while also seeking to make creative use of the Library’s collections. Myself and the rest of the judges are excited to see how their research and writing develop over the course of 2019.”

The judges for the 2019 Eccles British Library 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; Erica Wagner, author, editor and former winner of the award; Dr Phil Hatfield, 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.  

Notes to Editors

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

The Eccles Centre for American Studies promotes the British Library's North American collections and supports the study of North America in schools and universities. The Centre was founded by David and Mary Eccles in 1991 and is based at the British Library. The Centre works closely with the Library’s curatorial teams to promote awareness of the United States, Canadian and Caribbean collections and offers programmes of financial support for researchers. The Centre also collaborates closely with members of the American, Canadian and Caribbean Studies communities in the UK, and with other partners interested in the advancement of knowledge about North America. It hosts numerous events each year, and its lively and diverse programme includes lectures, discussion panels, conferences, concerts and seminars aimed at academics, university students, school pupils, creatives and the general public.

For more information:

Ash Khan
The British Library
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