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American Debut Author Wins Oldest U.K. Book Prize

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A blog from: Poets & Writers Magazine

Posted by Prize Reporter on 8.22.11

The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, established nearly a century ago, was awarded over the weekend to California author Tatjana Soli for her first book, The Lotus Eaters (St. Martin's Press, 2010). Soli received the award, which carries a prize of ten thousand pounds (more than sixteen thousand dollars) and is administered by the University of Edinburgh, at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

A panel of University of Edinburgh professors and postgraduate students selected Soli's Vietnam War–era novel from a shortlist that included David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Random House) and two other debut novels, Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge (Knopf) and Michael Nath's La Rochelle (Route). Orringer also hails from the United States (Mitchell and Nath are from the United Kingdom).

Past winners of the award include Nadine Gordimer, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, D. H. Lawrence, Muriel Spark, and Evelyn Waugh. The prize was founded in 1919 by the widow of publisher James Tait Black to honor novels published in the previous calendar year.

In the video below, Soli discusses her origins in the short story and how she built her novel over time, as well as what she's learned about the importance of being an advocate for one's own work. "The career is so hard," she says, "that I wanted to wait and write the kind of stories that I want to write. And so I thought...if the novel gets published, good, and if it doesn't, at least I did what I wanted to do."

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