Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, by Akala, the stage name of 35-year old Kingslee James McLean Daley, is among the contenders for the James Tait Black prize for biography, which dates back to 1919.
The £10,000 prize is one of two awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh for books published during the previous year, one for the best biography and the other for a work of fiction.
The winners of both prizes will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August.
Natives, in which the Mobo award-winning artist and political activist takes his own experiences and widens them to confront issues around race and class in Britain, is one of four books on the shortlist for the biography prize.
It is joined by The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum; and The Life of Stuff: A Memoir about the Mess We Leave Behind, by Susannah Walker.
The fourth biography in the running is The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library, by Edward Wilson-Lee, about Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando, who sailed the world collecting books and prints.
Hundreds of books were read by academics and postgraduate students from the University’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, who nominated titles for the shortlist.
Biography judge Dr Simon Cooke, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “In searching, eloquent, and formally inventive explorations of their subjects, these four books ask questions about the way all of us live our lives. I’m delighted that this year’s shortlist shows the reach and vitality of biographical writing in the centenary year of the James Tait Black.”
Contenders for the £10,000 fiction prize include a book inspired by computing science pioneer Alan Turing and a debut novel about a woman’s journey into motherhood. The other nominated titles in the novels section are a book about personal relationships in the midst of political turmoil and a collection of short stories exploring black identity in America.