This evening Sue Prideaux was presented with the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, the oldest literary prize in the UK and, indeed, the third oldest in the world. It is pre-dated only by the Nobel and the Prix Goncourt. The James Tait Black enjoys a peculiarly honourable place among literary prizes. It is second to none for academic integrity, being awarded by senior members of Edinburgh University after a rigorous selection process by graduate students in Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, the oldest Department of English Literature in the world.
Previous winners include such literary greats as D.H.Lawrence, E.M.Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch and Graham Greene.
Two prizes are awarded annually, one for biography and one for fiction. The 2006 fiction prize was won by Ian McEwan for his novel Saturday.
The prizes were awarded by Ian Rankin, a former University of Edinburgh English Literature student.
“My colleague Roger Savage, who has judged the biography prize for several years, agrees with me that this year the submissions for both biography and novel have produced an impressive short list. By the same token, neither of us is in any doubt that for sheer excellence of organisation and delivery as well as sheer reading pleasure, Ian McEwan and Sue Prideaux fully justify their selection as winners,” said Professor Colin Nicholson, manager and novel judge of the awards.
The committee included Ian Rankin and the distinguished BBC journalist James Naughtie and Alexander McCall Smith, a Professor of Law at Edinburgh University.
The 2006 biography long list comprised some sixty books. The short list was:
Siegfried Sassoon: A Biography by Max Egremont.
Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce by Nigel Farndale.
The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson by Roger Knight.
Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom by Roger Pearson
Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream by Sue Prideaux.
In her acceptance speech, Sue Prideaux praised the spiritual generosity of the disinterested patrons of the arts whose long-ago benefactions bestowed recognition and encouragement on struggling artists.