Shortlist announced for world’s oldest literary prizes

Authors on the shortlist

A reworking of a classic Charles Dickens novel is one of the books that has been shortlisted for the world’s oldest literary prizes.

Demon Copperhead, a reimagining of David Copperfield which is set in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States in the late 1990s, is one of four titles in the running for the fiction section of the James Tait Black Prizes.

Also in the running is the story of a love affair between two men in shadow of the war in Kosovo, with Bolla by Pajtim Statovci, and translated from Finnish by David Hackston, also being shortlisted.

Overall the shortlist for the prizes – awarded to a work of fiction and a biography, with both picking up £10,000 – feature authors with links to America, Denmark, Finland and Oman.

The shortlisted books are in two sections – fiction and biography Credit: University of Edinburgh/PA

The literary honours have been presented by the University of Edinburgh since 1919, and are the only major British book prizes which are judged by literature scholars and students.

Fiction judge Dr Benjamin Bateman, of Edinburgh, said of the shortlist: “The only thing more impressive than the historical and emotional range of these works is the way they centre their storytelling in elegantly and movingly rendered characters.”

The four novels shortlisted for the fiction prize are Bitter Orange Tree by Jokha Alharthi, translated from Arabic by Marilyn Booth, Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, Bolla by Pajtim Statovci, translated from Finnish by David Hackston and After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz.

Meanwhile, the shortlisted biographies are Homesick by Jennifer Croft, A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast by Dorthe Nors, translated from Danish by Caroline Waight, Come Back in September: A Literary Education on West Sixty-Seventh Street, Manhattan by Darryl Pinckney and A History of Water: Being an Account of a Murder, an Epic and Two Visions of Global History by Edward Wilson-Lee (William Collins).

Biography judge Dr Simon Cooke, of Edinburgh University, said: “Absorbing, resonantly voiced, and beautifully realised, these life-writings open fascinating and various worlds, and searchingly inquire into the transformative relations between literature and life.”

All the shortlisted titles will be read and discussed by students and academics to decide the winners, with these due to be announced by the University of Edinburgh in July.