Former basketball player scoops Britain’s oldest literary award

Benjamin Markovits. Picture: PA
Benjamin Markovits. Picture: PA
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A professional basketball player turned writer and a literature professor have won Britain’s oldest literary awards.

Authors Benjamin Markovits and James Shapiro won this year’s James Tait Black Prizes, awarded annually by Edinburgh University.

Author James Shapiro who has won James Tait Black Prizes. Picture: PA

Author James Shapiro who has won James Tait Black Prizes. Picture: PA

Broadcaster Sally Magnusson announced the winners of the £10,000 prizes at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday.

Markovits’ novel You Don’t Have to Live Like This won the fiction award and charts an attempt to create utopia in modern-day Detroit, set in 2008 around the time of the financial crash and Barack Obama’s election.

The author, journalist and critic was a professional basketball player before becoming a writer and grew up in Texas, London, Oxford and Berlin.

He teaches creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the winning book is his sixth novel.

Shapiro won the biography prize with his study of a pivotal year in Shakespeare’s life - 1606, William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear.

The work examines how the events of 1606 shaped the Bard’s writing in the year of King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

Shapiro is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York and a leading authority on Shakespeare.

Biography judge Dr Jonathan Wild said: “Shapiro quite brilliantly interweaves the material found in the 1606 plays with the historical events of this momentous year, allowing us in the process new perspectives on familiar material.”

Fiction judge Dr Alex Lawrie said Markovits has produced an “astonishing state-of-the-nation novel”.

She added: “Markovits deftly captures the racial and economic fault lines at the heart of a supposedly utopian experiment for urban renewal in 21st-century Detroit.”

The awards were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of good books.

Each year more than 400 novels are read by Edinburgh University academics and postgraduate students who nominate books for the shortlist.

Previous winners include Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, Martin Amis and DH Lawrence.

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