Awards: In London, Costa Book Awards Names Its Category Winners

In News by Porter Anderson

The Costa Book Awards program, in its 50th year, names category winners: first novel, novel, biography, poetry, and children’s books.

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

Top Winner To Be Named February 1
As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the Costa Book Awards produce five key “category” awards, followed by a “book of the year” award. On November 23, we carried the five shortlists for the category awards, the winners of which this evening (January 4) have been named in London.

  • Winners in the five categories each are given £5,000 (US$6,764)
  • The overall winner is to be awarded £30,000 (US$40,587) and to be named on February 1

The winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be selected by a panel of jurors chaired by Reeta Chakrabarti, a journalist and broadcaster with BBC News. Joining her are:

  • Jessie Burton
  • Rishi Dastidar
  • Xiaolu Guo
  • Smriti Halls
  • Andrew Wilson
  • Damian Barr
  • Judy Murray
  • Melanie Sykes

Four of the five category winners this time are published by Penguin Random House UK divisions and imprints.

Category Winners in the Costa Book Awards

To be eligible for the 2021 Costa Book Awards, titles must have been first published in the UK or Ireland between November 1 of last year and October 31.

First Novel 

  • Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Penguin Random House/Viking)

Novel Award



  • The Kids by Hannah Lowe (Bloodaxe Books)

Children’s Book

Formed as the Whitbread Book Awards in 1972

The Costa Book Awards were established in 1971 as the Whitbread Book Awards. The selection of an overall book of the year was introduced in 1985. Prior to 1985, the Whitbread Literary Awards, as they were then known, recognized a number of books across a variety of categories.

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 13 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, eight times by a biography, eight times by a collection of poetry and twice by a children’s book. The 2020 Costa Book of the Year was The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

The current cycle actually is the 2021 set of awards. A key benefit that the Costa program gets by wisely making its shortlists and winner announcements in the early part of the year is that the organizers aren’t head-to-head with rival awards programs’ events and announcements during the end-of-year pile-on.

In its press materials today, the Costa team rightly highlights the fact that the awards are turning 50 this year, adding that Costa Coffee has been “running the UK’s most prestigious book prize since 2006″—a handsome 15 years of a laudatory 50, to be sure.

But some might point out that the Costa’s status as “the UK’s most prestigious book prize” could quickly be questioned by many readers, colleagues, and award programs including that big, internationally followed London-based prize the name of which might begin with a B. And very few programs make themselves look better by issuing marketing superlatives. The Costa stands firmly on its own and surely requires no such puffery after half a century.

Perhaps a new year’s resolution for the world’s publishing and book awards in 2022 could be to cool the promotional rhetoric, try not to schedule events on top of sister and brother awards programs, and stop risking the self-inflicted wound of overstatement.

The Coronavirus in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom reported 218,724 new coronavirus COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, “a new record for the number of cases reported on a single day, although a figure that also was skewed by reporting lags over the holidays,” write Guy Faulconbridge and Alistair Smout for Reuters London.

At The Guardian, Andrew Sparrow writes that Boris Johnson “has admitted at a No. 10 press conference that some hospitals already feel ‘at least temporally overwhelmed.’

And Megan Specia at The New York Times quotes Johnson, saying, “‘We have a chance to ride out this omicron wave without shutting down our country once again. We can keep our schools and businesses open, and we can find a way to live with this virus.”

At this writing, the 6:22 p.m. ET (2322 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees on a 28-day rolling basis, 3,266 cases in the United Kingdom’s population of 67 million, with 2,922,453 fatalities. During the full run of the pandemic, the UK has reported a total 13,719,710 cases and 149,415 deaths.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Costa Book Awards is here, and more on international book and publishing awards overall is here

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

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.