Shortlist for £20,000 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award revealed

Writer's Award 2020 judges. Photograph by Rii Schroer

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 both sides of the Atlantic and showcases a vibrant selection of Latin American storytelling through both fiction and non-fiction.

The £20,000 prize is granted annually to writers in the creative stages of a new project relating to North, Central or South America or the Caribbean. Winners are also awarded a year’s writing residency at the British Library and now, for the first time, a dedicated platform at Hay Festival events worldwide. Earlier this year, the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library announced it was joining forces with Hay Festival to deliver the Award in partnership.

All shortlisted authors will be awarded £2,000 (which will be included as part of the total winners’ prize fund), with two winners due to be announced at the British Library on 25 November. To read more about the shortlist,

The shortlist

Jon Lee Anderson is chosen for his forthcoming biography of Fidel Castro, which will explore Castro’s life and legacy by drawing from Cuba-related documentation from within the British Library’s Latin American collections.

Chloe Aridjis is nominated 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. Aridjis plans to map out her own Chiapanecan topography using material from the British Library including botanical manuals, political tracts, the dream chronicles of the Tzotzil Indians and early travelogues and accounts from the Conquest. 

Gloria Susana Esquivel makes the shortlist for her non-fiction project The ones that were there: artists, writers, politicians, intellectuals and activists which will highlight fifteen Colombian women who lived during the 20th-century. Her research will draw from the British Library’s newspaper archive to understand women´s participation and representation in politics, arts and civic life in Colombia.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler is chosen for Love in the time of -, an experimental novel about democracy and dictatorship, sisterhood and sexuality which will draw from the oral and literary traditions of Brazil and the UK to weave together two generations of women: one living in Brazil under the military dictatorship and the other in contemporary London. The author anticipates making use of the British Library’s collection of Brazilian newspapers, political pamphlets and monographs to develop the novel.

Carlos Granés is selected for 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. The book will be informed by political and artistic manifestos, poetry, memoirs and biographies from within the British Library’s Latin American collections which shed light on the origin of radical ideas in the region.

Daniel Saldaña Paris makes the shortlist for his novel Principio de mediocridad, a story composed of four first person narrations, each an intense relationship with the history and geography of the city of Cuernavaca, Mexico, for which the author will delve into the British Library’s collections to research the cultural history of landscapes and artistic movements in Latin America.

Nicholas Pierpan is chosen for his novel Year of the Crisis, a historical drama following the travails of one North American family over the course of a year, culminating in President Carter’s remarkable ‘crisis of confidence’ speech of 1979. Pierpan will make use of the British Library’s North American collections to build a picture of the country during the late 1970s.

Nikesh Shukla is chosen for Guest Is God, a psychological thriller set around American motel life in the 1990s. Shukla plans to use the British Library’s North American collections to explore the language around immigration through the 1980-90s in North America, how people from immigrant backgrounds were talked about and their place in society, as well as understanding the social and geographic impact of interstate motels and the communities around them.

Chair of the judges, Philip Hatfield said: “The 2020 Award received more interest than we’ve ever had before. Reading about so many projects that can benefit from access to the British Library’s Americas collections has been enormously inspiring. While the decision-making was challenging, we are excited to present a list that is bursting with excellence and creativity. Most importantly, it is a list that showcases the very best of borderless storytelling, which is what our collaboration with Hay Festival has at its beating heart. We are delighted to be able to support our shortlistees in the development of their projects and look forward to selecting the winners.”

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


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Notes to Editors

Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award

The British Library is collaborating with Hay Festival to facilitate and inspire a new wave of world-class storytelling in the UK and across the Americas. Beginning in 2020, the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award will support writers in the creative stages of a new project through a £20,000 prize and a year-long residency at the British Library granting up-close access to the Americas collections as well as curatorial expertise. Winners will have the opportunity to share their published work with international audiences via the new Eccles Centre Platform, hosted by Hay Festivals worldwide. 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.

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.

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.

Hay Festival is a not-for-profit organisation that brings readers and writers together to share stories and ideas in sustainable events around the world. The festivals inspire, examine and entertain, inviting participants to imagine the world as it is and as it might be. Nobel Prize-winners and novelists, scientists and politicians, historians and musicians talk with audiences in a dynamic exchange of ideas. The Festival’s global conversation shares the latest thinking in the arts and sciences with curious audiences live, in print and online. Upcoming editions include Hay Forum Moquegua, Peru (6-7 November 2019); Hay Festival Arequipa, Peru (7-10 November 2019); Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye Winter Weekend, Wales (28 November-1 December 2019); Hay Festival Medellín, Colombia (29-31 January 2020); Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (30 January-2 February 2020); Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, UAE (24-27 February 2020); Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye, Wales (21-31 May 2020); Hay Festival Europa28 Rijeka, Croatia (3-5 June 2020); Hay Festival Querétaro, Mexico (September 2020); and Hay Festival Segovia, Spain (September 2020). @hayfestival

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