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Major book award winners in 2020
- Deborah Chu
- 13 November 2020
For your reading pleasure, we've rounded up the literary works which have scooped up the biggest book prizes this year, both in the UK and abroad
'You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,' said author and Narnia creator C S Lewis. Reading is indeed one of life's greatest pleasures, and never more so now, as we enter into the wintry phase of this seemingly-endless pandemic. So as the nights get longer and colder, you'll surely be wanting to make yourself the biggest cup of tea possible and turn to a good book. Whether you're looking to escape into a thrilling page-turner, stimulate those little grey cells with a cerebral work of non-fiction, or find solace in beautiful poetry and prose, these literary prize winners are sure to help us see us through these difficult times.
British and International Awards
Booker Prize for Fiction
One of the most prestigious literary prizes for works written in the English language, the lead-up to the announcement of the winner of the Booker Prize is always rife with speculation and fanfare. Last year, in an unprecedented move, the Booker was awarded jointly to Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other and Margaret Atwood's The Testaments.
This 2020 winner of the Booker Prize is Scottish author Douglas Stuart for his first novel Shuggie Bain.
The International Booker Prize
Established to complement the Booker Prize, the International Booker Prize was established in 2004 to honour a work that has been translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The £50,000 prize is then split equally between the writer and translator.
The 2020 winner of the International Booker Prize is Dutch poet and author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld's novel The Discomfort of Evening, which took the Netherlands by storm when it first appeared on the scene. Centred around a religious farming family torn apart by grief after the death of their son, The Discomfort of Evening was praised for its evocative use of language and translator Michele Hutchinson's encapsulation of its 'wild, violent beauty'.
Women's Prize for Fiction
Founded in 1992 due to long-held frustration towards all-male literary award shortlists (despite the ratio of books written by women to those written by men holding at roughly 60/40), the Women's Prize is today one of the most respected literary awards in the world, and an enduring champion for fiction written by women.
The 2020 winner is Hamnet by Irish-British novelist Maggie O'Farrell, a fictional account of the short life of Shakespeare's son, who would ultimately lend his name to one of the Bard's iconic tragedies.
Costa Book Awards
For the past 50 years, the Costa Book Awards have been honouring the best writers in the UK and Ireland across five categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Book. One of these five winners is then crowned Costa Book of the Year.
Last year's overall winner was Jack Fairweather's The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz. The 20 books to make up 2020's shortlist will be revealed Tue 24 Nov.
The Goldsmiths Prize
The Goldsmiths Prize – awarded by Goldsmiths, University of London – was set up in 2013 to celebrate 'fiction at its most novel,' championing innovated works that push against the boundaries and possibilities of the form. Winners of this prestigious award receive a prize of £10,000.
The 2020 winner of the Goldsmiths Prize is M. John Harrison's The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, a work of realist fantasy about a pair of lovers whose sense of reality begins to disintegrate as a mysterious political conspiracy begins to take over England.
James Tait Black Memorial Prize
One of the UK's oldest literary awards, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize was established in 1919 and honours any work of fiction, biography or drama written in the English language and published that calendar year. The prize differs from other awards of its type in that, instead of a judging panel made up of literati, the shortlist is compiled by postgraduate students from the University of Edinburgh, and the winners selected by senior staff at the university.
The 2019 winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize was Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport, a gargantuan feat of literary writing centred around inner reflections of an Ohio housewife, clocking in at 1,020 pages and eight near-endless sentences. The 2020 winner will be announced in August 2021 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
International Dylan Thomas Prize
Awarded by Swansea University, the Dylan Thomas Prize seeks to honour the best published literary work – encompassing poetry, drama, short stories and novels – by an author under the age of 39 in the English language from across the world. Established in 2006, the award seeks to honour the freshness and vitality of the work of Swansea's favourite son, the poet Dylan Thomas.
The 2020 winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize is Bryan Washington for his debut short story collection LOT, which explores the inner lives of Houston residents from amongst its marginalised communities.
International DUBLIN Literary Award
The annual award, sponsored by the Dublin City Council, boasts one of the largest prize funds in the world for a single work in the English language, with the winning author receiving €100,000. Books are nominated by public libraries in cities around the world, before an international panel of judges whittles the nominations down to a shortlist and eventual winner.
The 2020 winner of the International DUBLIN Literary Award is Northern Irish author Anna Burns for her novel Milkman, a chilling examination of The Troubles through the eyes of a young girl who is harassed by an older man known only as the 'milkman'.
Rathbones Folio Prize
Open to all genres and forms of literature written in English and published in the UK, the Rathbones Folio Prize seeks to honour 'works of literature in which the subjects being explored achieve their most perfect and thrilling expression'. The winner receives a prize of £30,000.
The 2020 Rathbones Folio Prize winner is Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive, which follows a squabbling American family on a road trip from New York City to the Mexican border against the backdrop of the Trump administration's child separation policy.
The British Book Awards
With over 25 award categories, the British Book Awards aim to celebrate the incredible works that come out of the British publishing industry every year, but also the people who bring us this literary joy, from authors and publishers to booksellers.
The 2020 winner for Best Fiction is Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other, an expansive look into the inner lives of Black British women, and how their lived experiences intersect with contemporary and historic notions around race, class and sexuality. The winner of Best Fiction: Crime & Thriller is Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister, the Serial Killer, which takes a comic spin on the traditional crime novel. Finally, Candice Carty-William wins both Fiction: Debut and Overall Book of the Year for her sparkling and bold coming-of-age tale Queenie, which centres on one young woman's struggle to take control of her own life.
The Jhalak Prize was established in 2017 to celebrate the works of British and British resident writers of colour from across the genres of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, graphic novels and more. The winner receives a prize of £1,000.
The 2020 winner of the Jhalak Prize is Johny Pitts for his book Afropean: Notes from a Black Europe, a panoramic documentary about the lives of Europeans of African descent and their negotiation of multiple identities, presenting a vital re-telling the continent's history with Afropeans as the protagonists in their own story.
The Portico Prize
The biennial Portico Prize – widely considered the 'Booker of the North' – shines a light on works which 'best evokes the spirit of the North of England' across the categories of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Presented in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, the winner receives a prize of £10,000.
The 2020 winner of the Portico Prize is Jessica Andrews' debut novel Saltwater, which charts a young Sunderland girl's struggle with class and regional identity as she moves to London for university.
Books Are My Bag Readers Awards
The only book award curated by booksellers and chosen by readers, the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards celebrates the most-loved books that've been published and read across the UK and Ireland that year.
The 2020 winner for Best Fiction is Stuart Turton's The Devil and the Dark Water, which follows an impossible murder on the high seas and the two fugitive detectives on the case, while the winner of the Readers' Choice award is Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet.
Major Non-British English Language Awards
Established in 1917, the coveted Pulitzer Prizes honours the very best in American arts and journalism. The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction recognises a work written by an American author published in the preceding calendar year, with preference given to novels about an American subject.
The 2020 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which centres around the abuse that occurs in a Florida reform school in the '60s. Whitehead becomes one of four writers who have won the prize twice, as he also won in 2017 for The Underground Railroad.
National Book Awards
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary prizes which seeks to 'celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.' Awards are given across the five categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translation and young people's literature
The 2020 winner of the National Book Award for Fiction is Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, an inventive, funny and touching send-up of Asian stereotypes in film.
Canada's most prestigious literary award, the Giller Prize was founded in 1994 to celebrate excellence in fiction being written and published in Canada, and have counted the likes of Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje as former winners. The winner receives a cash prize of $100,000, with each shortlisted author also receiving $10,000.
The 2020 winner of the Giller Prize is Souvankham Thammavongsa's short story collection How To Pronounce Knife, which explores the disorientation of the immigrant experience in emotionally expansive ways.
Major Genre Awards
Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
Aptly named after one of the fathers of the genre, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction honours the best historical novels published that year ('historical' meaning works whose plot takes place at least 60 years ago), and is open to writers in the UK, Ireland and the Commonwealth. The winner receives £25,000, with shortlisted writers each receiving £1,500.
The 2020 winner of the Walter Scott Prize is Christine Dwyer Hickey's The Narrow Land, a complex portrait of the marriage of artists Jo and Edward Hopper, as well as the evolving concept of the American Dream following the Second World War.
Every year, the Stirling-based crime writing festival Bloody Scotland crowns one blood-soaked volume as the best crime novel of the year. The award is open to writers born or living in Scotland, or books set in Scotland.
The 2020 winner of the McIlvanney Prize is Pine by Francine Toon, an eerie, sinister debut about a decades-old mystery set in the Scottish Highlands.
The Orwell Prize
Established to honour works that uphold George Orwell's ambition 'to make political writing into an art', The Orwell Prizes recognise the best political writing and reporting published in the UK.
The 2020 winner of the Political Writing Book Prize is Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy, in which the author shares her personal account of state education. The 2020 winner of the Political Fiction Book Prize is Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys.
Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction
One of the foremost non-fiction literary prizes in the UK, the Baillie Gifford Prize celebrates some of the most intelligent explorations into issues that reflect the world we live in, ranging from politics and pop culture to science, sport and the arts.
The 2019 winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize was Hallie Rubenhold's The Five: The Untold Lives of The Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. The winner of the 2020 prize will be announced Tue 24 Nov.
Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction shortlist
One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown
The Idea of the Brain: A History by Matthew Cobb
Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh
Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women by Christina Lamb
Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Woman's Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan by Amy Stanley
The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale
Major Poetry Awards
Forward Prizes for Poetry
Honouring excellence in contemporary poetry published in the UK and Ireland, the Forward Prizes for Poetry is administered by the Forward Arts Foundation, which works to promote and expand the public's knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of poetry. The prizes include the categories of Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem.
The 2020 winners of the Forward Prizes are Caroline Bird's The Air Year for Best Collection, Will Harris' RENDANG for Best First Collection and Malika Booker's 'The Little Miracles' for Best Single Poem.
T S Eliot Prize
Considered to be the most coveted and prestigious award in British poetry, the T S Eliot Prize is named after the modernist poet, author of 'The Waste Land' and 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock', and whose foundation now administers the £25,000 award. The prize is open to any new poetry collection published in the UK and Ireland.
The 2019 winner of the T S Eliot Prize was Roger Robinson's A Portable Paradise. This year's winner will be announced in January.
T S Eliot Prize shortlist
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Deformations by Sasha Dugdale
Shine, Darling by Ella Frears
RENDANG by Will Harris
Love Minus Love by Wayne Holloway-Smith
How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil
Life Without Air by Daisy Lafarge
How the Hell Are You by Glyn Maxwell
Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae
The Martian's Regress by JO Morgan
Browse all this year's book award winners in one place and support the UK's independent book shops at Bookshop.org.