UK’s £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prizewinner Will Be Announced Tonight

In News by Porter Anderson

Tonight’s winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction will walk away with a larger purse than last year’s. Six works are in contention.

The Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction 2019 shortlist

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

‘Huge Scope and Evocative Detail’
Having appeared last evening (November 18) at the London’s Tottenham Court Road Waterstones in an event hosted by the BBC’s Razia Iqbal, the authors shortlisted for this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction will reconvene tonight at the Science Museum in South Kensington.

Following the recent 2019 winners’ announcements of the London-based £25,000 (US$32,360) Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize in “sustainable history” writing and the Montreal-based US$75,000 (£57,940)  Cundill History Prize in particularly readable perspectives on history, the lucrative nonfiction awards season now moves to tonight’s (November 19) announcement of the £50,000 (US$64,657) Baillie Gifford.

Indeed, our readers will note that Julia Lovell is on the Baillie shortlist, having won the Cundill award on Thursday (November 14) for her popular Maoism: A Global History, published in the United States by Knopf and in the UK and Canada by Penguin’s Bodley Head.

As stated by the program’s organizers, the Baillie Gifford looks for nonfiction that offers “intelligent reflection on the world to new readers. It covers all nonfiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography, and the arts.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the longlist for the program, announced in September, comprised 12 titles. The shortlist from which tonight’s winner will be drawn halves that.

Baillie Gifford Prize 2019 Shortlist
  • Furious Hours, Casey Cep (William Heinemann)
  • On Chapel Sands, Laura Cumming (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth, William Feaver (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Maoism: A Global History, Julia Lovell (Vintage)
  • 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)

Amid the industry’s conscientious efforts to address issues of diversity and inclusivity, it has become customary for awards programs to announce their female-to-male ratios in longlists and shortlists–at least, when the women outnumber the men. The Baillie Gifford organizers have pointed out that their jury selected a shortlist representing the work of five women and one man.

What’s more, the company emphasized in its shortlist announcement that women’s stories feature heavily in four of the six titles—On Chapel Sands; The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper; Guest House for Young Widows; and Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee.

Stig Abell

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

In talking of the jury’s rationale for their choice of these six shortlisted books, Abell says, “We have picked six books from 12 and it was a gloriously testing, combative process, full of passionate arguments and the changing of minds, concessions, and hold-outs.

“I think we’ve ended up with a shortlist full of brilliance and verve, huge scope and evocative detail. I urge everyone to get reading these books. They will not be disappointed.

“The winning title, when it emerges, will have beaten some magnificent competition.”

This is the award program that formerly was known as the Samuel Johnson Prize, from 1999 to 2015. And prior to that, the NCR Book Award for Nonfiction ran for 10 years from 1987 to 1997 before the Samuel Johnson launched.

In 2016, Baillie Gifford, the Edinburgh-based investment management partnership, became the sponsor of the program, and the award was renamed the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction–and this year it has had a big boost in payout, a jump from  a £30,000 win last year to a £50,000 award this year.

Each of the shortlisted authors gets £1,000 (US$1,294).

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.

Social media fans will be able to follow news of the Baillie Gifford this evening on hashtag #BGPrize2019.

Following tonight’s presentation of the Baillie Gifford in London, the next big stop for nonfiction fans will be on Wednesday evening (November 20) at the US National Book Awards, which include nonfiction as one of that program’s five award categories. Our interview with National Book Foundation executive director Lisa Lucas—in which she discusses some aspects of the current popularity of nonfiction—is here.

Serhii Plokhy won the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction for his work on Chernobyl. Image: Baillie Gifford Prize, Belinda Lawley


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 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.