The Baillie Gifford’s Anniversary Winner: James Shapiro

In News by Porter Anderson

The 25th anniversary award from the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction goes to James Shapiro, who first won in 2006 for ‘1599.’

Author James Shapiro has won the 25th anniversary ‘winner of winners’ Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction for his ‘1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare,’ originally published in 2006 by Faber & Faber. Image: Baillie Gifford Prize, Chris Close

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

Mundy: ‘Astonishing Seriousness and Engagement’
Calling attention to its 25th anniversary, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction in the United Kingdom has handed £25,000 (US$31,157) to author James Shapiro for his 2006 release 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare (Faber, 2006).

It’s Shapiro’s and the book’s second win from the Baillie Gifford, of course, as it follows the vogue among England’s multitudinous book and publishing contests of marking an anniversary with a “winner of winners”/”best of the best” extra competition.

Jason Cowley, the jury chair, made the announcement overnight (April 27) at the National Museum of Scotland.

The New Statesman editor-in-chief Cowley was joined on the panel for this assignment by academic, critic and broadcaster, Shahidha Bari; journalist, author, and academic, Sarah Churchwell; and biographer and critic Frances Wilson. We’ll revisit the shortlist for this 25th anniversary award below from our initial story on it

The Baillie Gifford is among the several well-funded, high-level awards operating in the English-language space, of course, honoring strong and much-needed quality in the nonfiction sector. However, it has yet to put its reputation where its golden stickers are, and follow the lead of the Booker Prize Foundation in providing information on the impact its highest honors have on sales.

It’s a fond assumption by many professionals and consumers in book publishing that an award helps increase a good book’s sales. But for the most part, that’s an article of bookish faith, one of the areas in which book publishing often operates without actual data.

Sales data from 2006 likely is not adequate to get a picture of what effect Shapiro’s first win for 1599 had in the market. But this second win for the book offers a new chance for the Baillie-Gifford to provide a look at what its jury’s attention may do for a book on the high street and in online retail.

Toby Mundy

In a prepared comment, Toby Mundy, the prize’s executive director, said, “This has been an heroic, epic undertaking by our judges.

“They’ve had to grapple with some of the most brilliant nonfiction books written in English in the last quarter century and have done so with astonishing seriousness and engagement.

“It’s wonderful to think that, thanks to these judges, a new generation of readers can discover James Shapiro’s timeless classic.”

The Baillie Gifford Prize Anniversary Shortlist

The shortlisted authors for the 25th anniversary Baillie Gifford Prize honor at a photo call at Waterstones in Edinburgh. Image: Baillie Gifford Prize, Chris Close

Author, Translator (Nationality) Title Publisher and/or Imprint, Year of Win
Craig Brown (United Kingdom) One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time HarperCollins / Fourth Estate, 2020
Wade Davis (Canada) Into the Silence: The Great War Mallory and the Conquest of Everest Penguin Random House UK / Vintage / Bodley Head, 2012
Barbara Demick (United States) Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea Granta 2010
Patrick Radden Keefe (United States) Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty Penguin Random House UK / Doubleday, 2021
Margaret Macmillan (Canada)

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World (formerly Peacemakers: Six Months That Changed The World)

Hachette UK / John Murray Press, 2002
James Shapiro, United States

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

Faber & Faber, 2006

The Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction is open to writers of all nationalities. and it covers nonfiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography, and the arts.

In case you’re not familiar with the provenance of the name, Baillie Gifford is an independent investment partnership founded in 1908 and headquartered in Edinburgh. In the literary world, Baillie Gifford sponsors a number of literary festivals, including principal sponsorship of Hay Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival and headline sponsorship Stratford Literary Festival, Henley Literary Festival, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Image: Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing industry and book awards is here, more on the United Kingdom’s market is here, more on the Baillie Gifford Prize is here, and more 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.