British Library and Hay Festival reveal six-strong shortlist for £20k Writer’s Award

The British Library and Hay Festival are delighted to reveal the shortlist for the 2021 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award. Featuring writers based in the UK, Spain, Argentina, and Chile, the six-strong list includes works of both fiction and non-fiction – all of them yet-to-be-published. Stand-out themes across the submissions received for the 2021 Award included environmental issues, indigenous communities and the legacy of colonialism.

The £20,000 prize is granted annually to writers in the creative stages of a new project relating to North, Central or South America or the Caribbean. Winners are also awarded a year’s research residency at the British Library and access to a dedicated platform at Hay Festival events in the UK, Europe and Latin America upon publication of their book. This is the second year the Award has been run as a partnership between the Eccles Centre at the British Library and Hay Festival. The 2020 winners were the Mexican-born novelists Chloe Aridjis and Daniel Saldaña Paris.

Each shortlisted writer for 2021 will be awarded £2000, with two winners due to be announced in a digital event on 25 November. For more information on the shortlist, please visit

Catherine Eccles, Chair of the judging panel, says: “This year we received more submissions than ever before and it was a tough process whittling them down to the six exceptional shortlisted projects we have announced, which range across the American continent and the Caribbean. The judges were thrilled to see such vibrant creativity, original ideas and ambition and look forward to seeing the finished books. This collaboration between the Eccles Centre at the British Library and Hay Festival gives authors the time, space and the curatorial support within the Library’s American collections to write even better books – it’s a great honour to help make it happen.”

The judging panel consisted of Mercedes Aguirre, Lead Curator of American collections at the British Library; Catherine Eccles, Director of literary scouting agency Eccles Fisher Associates; Cristina Fuentes La Roche, International Director at Hay Festival; Cara Rodway, Acting Head of the Eccles Centre at the British Library; and Erica Wagner, writer and 2014 Writer’s Award winner for her book Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge.

The 2021 shortlist

Andrés Barba is selected for Ruinas Vivas de América (Living Ruins of America) – a literary and philosophical exploration of the concept of ruins - archaeological, historical and natural – across the American continent. To be published in Spanish by Anagrama.

Doreen Cunningham is selected for her forthcoming memoir about learning from whales how to be a mother in a world in climate crisis, the effects of climate change on oceans and climate justice for Indigenous peoples. The author draws on a journey with her own child, following the grey whale migration from Mexico to the Arctic, and her enduring relationship with an Iñupiat family. To be published in English by Virago.

Lina Meruane is selected for her novel Pie de Guerra (War Footing), which will expose the mutilation suffered by the Chilean veterans of the Pacific War, the dismemberment of their bodies and the suppression of their voices. To be published by Penguin Random House Chile.

Pola Oloixarac is selected for Atlas Literario del Amazonas (Literary Atlas of the Amazon) ­– a work of creative non-fiction revealing the secret history of the Amazon as a region of the world and the people, ideas and stories within it that have remained unexplored. To be published in Spanish by Penguin Random House.

JS Tennant is selected for Mrs Gargantua and the Idea of Cuba  a playful history of Cuba’s relationship with the United States and other superpowers, contextualising the island within a web of power relations to show how it has long been miscast, by outsiders, as an imagined or fantastical space, as much as a real one (from Columbus’s distortions to the present day). To be published by William Collins.

Imaobong Umoren is selected for Empire Without End: A New History of Britain and the Caribbean – an expansive new history of the 400 year relationship between Britain and the Caribbean, arguing that the Caribbean was the birth-place of a racial caste system that shaped both nations and continues to be influential today. 

Find out more about the Award and the shortlist here.