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Lindsey Hilsum wins prestigious book award for Marie Colvin biography

Lindsey Hilsum, Sally Magnusson, Olivia Laing (C) Lesley Martin

A BIOGRAPHY about distinguished Sunday Times correspondent killed in Syria has won a prestigious literary prize in the awards centenary year.

Award-Winning Journalist Lindsey Hilsum picked up the James Tait Black Prize for biography with: In Extremis: The life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin.

In February 2012, Marie Colvin was killed in a rocket attack in Homs, Syrua, which a US court ruled earlier this year the Syrian government was liable for her death.

The winners of the two £10,000 prizes, for best biography and best work of fiction, were announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday.

Olivia Laing won the fiction prize for her book Crudo, charting the personal transformation and love affair of a female protagonist during the political turbulence of the summer of 2017.

The James Tait Black Prizes have been presented every year since 1919 – surviving the Second World War, changing technology and evolving reading habits.

The Prizes are distinctive in the way that they are judged. Each year the books are considered by senior staff from English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, assisted by a reading panel of Edinburgh postgraduate students.

Lindsey Hilsum’s book was chosen for the £10,000 biography prize from a shortlist that also featured: Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala (Two Roads); The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library by Edward Wilson-Lee (William Collins) and The Life of Stuff: A Memoir about the Mess We Leave Behind by Susannah Walker (Doubleday).

Olivia Laing’s book topped a shortlist for the £10,000 fiction prize that included: Murmur by Will Eaves (Canongate); Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray) and Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Chatto & Windus).

Biography judge Dr Simon Cooke, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is a uniquely informed, passionate and balanced testament to the legendary war reporter Marie Colvin in all her human complexity, and a searching inquiry into her extraordinary dedication to bearing witness to the stories of those living in extremis.”

Fiction Judge of the James Tait Black Prize Dr Alex Lawrie, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is fiction at its finest: a bold and reactive political novel that captures a raw slice of contemporary history with pace, charm, and wit.”

In 1918, Janet Tait Black, née Coats, part of the renowned threadmaking family J & P Coats, made provision in her will for the creation of two book prizes in the name of her husband.

To mark the centenary of the prizes, and to honour the founder, this year the University presented an additional prize – a creative writing award for short story writing.

The Janet Coats Black Prize has been awarded to Julie Galante, a Creative Writing student, for the best short story by a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.

The winning student was awarded £1500 and a mentoring opportunity with last year’s James Tait Black Prize fiction winner, Eley Williams.

Judge of the prize, author Claire Askew, writer-in-residence at the University, said: “Thanks to Janet Coats Black, the James Tait Black Prizes were created in 1919. This student prize honours Janet Coat Black and her support for literature and the written word.”

This year’s book prize winners will join the illustrious roll call of award winners. The awards have recognised landmark works and propelled the careers of many authors.

Four winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature have been awarded a James Tait Black Prize.

Earlier in their career William Golding, Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee each collected a fiction prize and Doris Lessing was awarded a prize for biography.

The inaugural fiction winner was Hugh Walpole for The Secret City, his seminal work about the Russian Revolution. Henry Festing Jones won the inaugural biography prize for his book about the writer and artist Samuel Butler.

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