Guardian First Book Award

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Guardian First Book Award is a literary award by The Guardian newspaper that annually recognises one book by a new writer. It was established in 1999, replacing the Guardian Fiction Award or Guardian Fiction Prize that the newspaper had sponsored from 1965.[1]


The newspaper determined to change its book award after 1998, and during that year also hired Claire Armitstead as literary editor. At the inaugural First Book Award ceremony in 1999 she said that she was informed of the change, details to be arranged, by the head of the marketing department during her second week on the job. "By the time we left the room we had decided on two key things. We would make it a first book award, and we would involve reading groups in the judging process. This was going to be the people's prize."[1] About the opening to nonfiction she had said in August, "readers do not segregate their reading into fiction or non-fiction, so neither should we."[2] There was no restriction on genre; for example, both poetry and travel would be included in principle.[1] So would self-published autobiographies.[2]

1999. For the first rendition, 140 books were submitted, including a lot of nonfiction strongest "by far" in "a hybrid of travel-writing and reportage"; weak in science and biography. Experts led by Armitstead selected a longlist of eleven and Borders book stores in Glasgow, London, Brighton and Leeds hosted reading groups that considered one book a week, September to November, and selected a shortlist of six. A panel of eight judges including two Guardian editors chose the winner.[2] The newspaper called it "the first time the ordinary reading public have been involved in the selection of a major literary prize." In the event, the 1999 reading groups selected a shortlist including six novels, and all four groups favored the novel Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. Their second favourite was one of the travelogue and reporting hybrids, by Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker.[3] The judges chose the latter, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families —"a horrifying but humane account of the Rwandan genocide, its causes and consequences", the newspaper called it in August.[2]

For 2000 there were ten books on the longlist and five on the shortlist. The newspaper both reviewed every one of the ten books and posted its first chapter online. By genre it classified five of ten including the winner as Novels; the others as Memoir, Politics, Travelogue, History/science, and Memoir/history.

Current arrangements[edit]

The prize is worth £10,000 to the winner. Eligible titles must be published in English in the UK within the calendar year.[4]

In 2013, the shortlist was announced in July and the winner in November. The selection is made by a panel of critics and writers, chaired by the literary editor of The Guardian.[4]

The process begins with book reviewers from The Guardian recommending a certain number of first books they think worthy of the prize. The books with the most nominations make up the longlist. Public discussion groups are assembled, relying heavily on advertisements in the newspaper. There are[year missing] five of these groups, each one comprising eight people, and they meet at various Waterstone's bookshops in the UK. After roughly eight weekly meetings in which they discuss the books on the longlist, each group compiles a list of its favourite books, which are combined to produce a shortlist of five. A panel of celebrity judges then decides the winner.[citation needed]

Winners and shortlists[edit]

Source: annual coverage by The Guardian


Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, a hybrid of journalism and travelogue about the Rwandan genocide

  • Boxy an Star, a drugs fantasy written in a beautifully sustained argot by Daren King
  • Ghostwritten, a patchwork of stories from all corners of the world by David Mitchell
  • The Blue Bedspread, a chamber tragedy by the Calcutta-based Raj Kamal Jha
  • No Place Like Home, Gary Younge's account of his soul-searching journey from Stevenage to the deep South
  • Lighthouse Stevensons, the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's lighthouse-building ancestors by Bella Bathurst

Zadie Smith, White Teeth, novel

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski, novel
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, memoir
  • No Logo by Naomi Klein, politics
  • Catfish and Mandala: a Vietnamese Odyssey by Andrew Pham, travelogue

Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, graphic novel


Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated


Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind


Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of Human Body


Alexander Masters, Stuart: A Life Backwards


Yiyun Li, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


Dinaw Mengestu, Children of the Revolution


Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century


Petina Gappah, An Elegy for Easterly


Alexandra Harris, Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper


Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer


Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds


Donal Ryan, The Spinning Heart


Colin Barrett, Young Skins (story collection)

  • Henry Marsh, Do No Harm (memoir)
  • Fiona McFarlane, The Night Guest (novel)
  • Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition (journalism)
  • May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break (story collection)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Claire Armitstead on the First Book Award: Guardian literary editor's speech from the ceremony"., 2 December 1999. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  2. ^ a b c d "Judges Poised as First-time Authors Excel: Travel books with bite make up the strongest entry in the Guardian's new book award - but where did all the science writers go?". Claire Armitstead. The Guardian, 27 August 1999. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  3. ^ "Readers pick top Guardian books". Fiachra Gibbons. The Guardian, 6 November 1999. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  4. ^ a b "Enter the Guardian first book award 2013"., 16 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-01-12.
Annual home pages for the First Book Award, 1999 to present

External links[edit]