The UK’s Nonfiction Baillie Gifford Prize Announces a 2019 Longlist

In News by Porter Anderson

In its 12-book longlist, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction–now with its purse at £50,000–features themes of modern-day piracy, Turkish imprisonment, and housing crises.

At the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction award ceremony in London. Image: BGP

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Issue-Driven Nonfiction
Handsomely funded to pay a £50,000 purse (US$62,083), the UK’s Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction has announced its 2019 longlist, which comprises a dozen titles from 10 publishers.

The Gifford shortlist is expected on October 22 and the program’s winner is to be announced on November 19 at an awards dinner at London’s Science Museum, an event that has the funding support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

In addition to the winner’s cash, each of the shortlisted authors is to receive £1,000 (US$1,241).

The jury for the competition includes Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell; Myriam Francois, TV producer and writer; Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, professor of English literature; Frances Wilson, critic and biographer; Petina Gappah, writer and lawyer; and Alexander Van Tulleken, TV presenter.

The Baillie Giffords Prize 2019 Longlist
  • I Will Never See the World Again, Ahmet Altan (Granta Books)
  • Furious Hours, Casey Cep (William Heinemann)
  • On Chapel Sands, Laura Cumming (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed, Catrina Davies (Riverrun)
  • The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth, William Feaver (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment, Amelia Gentleman (Guardian Faber)
  • Maoism: A Global History, Julia Lovell (Vintage)
  • The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, Dorian Lynskey (Picador)
  • Guest House for Young Widows, Azadeh Moaveni (Scribe UK)
  • The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold (Doubleday)
  • The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina (Vintage)

In a prepared statement, Abell, speaking as chair of the jurors, is quoted, saying, “It’s been a summer of reading with unbridled pleasure, and I think we’ve ended up with a longlist of books that are, by turns , provocative, magisterial and beautiful pieces of work.

“Above all, they’re companionable: stories to which you are happy to turn and return, some with contemporary resonances, others that are more timeless.

“Going from 12 down to six and then picking a winner is going to be a bit of a challenge.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, Serhii Plokhy won the 2018 prize for Chernobyl, his account of the 1986 nuclear-reactor catastrophe in Soviet Ukraine. Published as Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Penguin’s Allen Lane in the UK, the book was released in the States by Hachette’s Basic Books as  Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe.

The book was selected as a Waterstones nonfiction book of the month and had attention from several award programs.

This year’s longlist is distinctively internationalist in its purview of issues. They run from racial politics and one of America’s most famous writers, Harper Lee, in Furious Hours by Cep, for example, to Lynskey’s look at Orwell, easily one of the most bitterly invoked influencers on our age of “fake news” and today’s world leaders—chief among them Donald Trump—whose lies number in the thousands annually.

History titles on the list include Dalrymple’s The Anarchy, charting the evolution of its operations in India from trading partner to ruthless colonial aggressor and Lovell’s In Maoism, a reevaluation of the impact of Mao’s ideology at a time when the relationship between China and the West is again among the key international issues, particularly in international trade at the moment.

In case you need help parsing the many awards programs that so frequently highlight good literature in the UK market, this is the award program that formerly was known as the Samuel Johnson Prize, from 1999 to 2015.

In 2016, Baillie Gifford, the Edinburgh-based investment management partnership, became the sponsor of the Johnson, and the award was renamed the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction.

Under the new sponsorship, the prize seems to have become significantly richer. It was announced as a £30,000 win last year, and is a £50,000 award this year.

Historically, the NCR Book Award for Nonfiction ran for 10 years from 1987 to 1997 and The Samuel Johnson Prize launched in 1999 taking over where the NCR Award left off.

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing industry awards is here, and on nonfiction is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.