Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award 2024 shortlist announced

The British Library and Hay Festival are delighted to reveal the shortlist for the 2024 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award. Given annually to two writers in the early stages of a new book relating to the Americas, the £20,000 prize is now in its 13th year.

Six writers make up the 2024 shortlist: Mexican novelist Julian Herbert Chavez, Irish art critic Isobel Harbison, Bolivian novelist Rodrigo Hasbún, British poet Hannah Lowe, British-American historian Sarah M.S. Pearsall, and Chilean novelist Alia Trabucco Zerán.

Two winners each hold the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award for one year from 1 January and receive £20,000, in four quarterly grants; a residency at the British Library, with unique access to the expertise of the Library’s curatorial staff; the chance to appear at future Hay Festival editions with their published work; and the opportunity to work with the Eccles Centre to develop and facilitate activities and events related to their research at the British Library.

The award is judged by a panel comprising Eccles Fisher Associates Director Catherine Eccles, Hay Festival International Director Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library Polly Russell, historian Colin Grant, and Lucy Rowlands, Interim Lead Curator for American Collections at the British Library.

Polly Russell, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, said: “We are thrilled with the 2024 Writer’s Award shortlisted projects. Each one explores an unexpected and exciting aspect of the Americas through the British Library’s collections and if we could award them all with the final prize we definitely would!”

Cristina Fuentes La Roche, international director at Hay Festival, said: “The shortlist for this year’s Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award offers breadth, depth and endless inspiration. We are incredibly proud of continued growth of the Award as it continues to support writers in illuminating new facets of the Americas. Any one of these would make a worthy winner and we look forward to supporting and sharing their work for many years to come.”

The winners will be announced at an awards reception at the British Library on Wednesday 29 November. The 2023 winners were writers Ayanna Lloyd Banwo and Jarred McGinnis.

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Julian Herbert Chavez

Born in Acapulco, Mexico, Julian Herbert Chavez is the author of several poetry collections, and has published novels including Un mundo infielCanción de tumba and the historical fiction La casa del dolor ajeno. He has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Gilberto Owen National Literature Prize, the Juan José Arreola National Short Story Prize, the Agustín Yáñez National Short Story Prize, the Jaén Novel Prize, the Elena Poniatowska Ibero-American Novel Prize, the MacGinnis Ritchie Award, the Borchard Foundation scholarship and the Ramón López Velarde National Poetry Prize.

His submitted work for the Award is Carmenaida. Spanning much of the twentieth century, it explores themes of aspiration and status and the relationship between Mexico and the UK by retelling the story of a huge pearl discovered in the Sea of Cortez, which found its way onto the crown worn by Edward VII at his coronation in 1901. The judges said: “We love the idea of a huge, much prized pearl being the focus for a story about the tangled connections between Mexico and the UK, and the human experience of longing to belong and the longing to escape.”

Isobel Harbison

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Isobel Harbison is an art critic and lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her first book, Performing Image, was published in 2019 and she contributes regularly to The London Review of Books, The White Review, The Daily Telegraph and others.

Her submitted work for the Award is Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas. Set in Las Vegas, it offers the true story of women, power and light. Named after the city’s most famous neon sign, the book explores the life of its unsung designer, Ms Betty Willis, and the stories of the women, from entertainers, card dealers, architects, choreographers and writers, who were drawn to work beneath her stellar signs. The judges said: “We were captivated by Isobel Harbison’s book which will shine a light on the untold history of Las Vegas and the women who made it through the little-known story of Las Vegas neon-sign designer Betty Willis.”

Rodrigo Hasbún

Born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Rodrigo Hasbún is the author of novels including El lugar del cuerpoLos afectos and Los años invisibles; the short story collections CincoLos días más felices and Cuatro; the essay collection Las palabras [textos de ocasión]; and co-writer of the film scripts including El visitante. Part of the Hay Festival Bogotá39 selection of emerging wrtiers in 2007, his work has been translated into a dozen languages.

His submitted work for the Award is New Germania, which explores colonial legacies, themes of migration and the ways that individual and community destiny are entwined, by telling the story of the fourteen families who left Germany in 1886 to set up an Aryan utopia in a jungle region of Paraguay. The judges said: “We can’t wait to read about the dreams and disappointments of the characters who struggled and failed to establish a new community in Paraguay based on nationalist, Germanic ideals in the 19th century.”

Hannah Lowe

Born in Ilford, UK, Hannah Lowe is a poet, memoirist and academic whose work is focused largely on the legacies of the British Empire, in particular her writing on the Chinese-Caribbean and the historicising of the Empire Windrush. She has published three full poetry collections:ChickChan and The Kids which was nominated for the TS Eliot Prize and won the Costa Poetry Award and the overall Costa Book of the Year Award. Her memoir Long Time No See was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

Her submitted work for the Award is the lyrical, hybrid memoir, Moy: In Search of Nelsa Lowe, uses the intimate story of her Chinese Jamaican aunt - a folk healer, amputee, hostess of a famous waterfront restaurant, and ‘madam’ of a portside brothel - as a device for exploring the history of the Chinese in Jamaica, women’s sexual labour, and the culture of folk healing. The judges said: “We were enthralled by Hannah Lowe’s inventive approach to conjuring Nelsa, her Afro-Chinese Jamaican aunt. Remarkably, Lowe evokes Nelsa through a single portrait photo and along the way excavates other marginalised women whose lives are rarely noted in official archives.”

Sarah Pearsall

British-American historian Sarah M.S. Pearsall is Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. She previously taught early American, Atlantic, and Caribbean history in the Faculty of History at Cambridge University where she was also a Fellow of Robinson College. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, her published books include Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century and Polygamy: An Early American History.

Her submitted work for the Award is Freedom Round the Globe, which tells the story of the American Revolution from a global perspective, looking at unexpected places to trace the origins and impact of the revolution beyond the thirteen colonies and the Founding Fathers. The judges said: “We were excited by the way Sarah Pearsall’s approach to re-examining the American Revolution in a global context through the use of archival material on concurrent events in Africa, Australia, India and the Caribbean turns our understanding of a familiar topic on its head.”

Alia Trabucco Zerán

Born in Santiago, Chile, Alia Trabucco Zerán studied law at the University of Chile, an MA in Creative Writing at New York University and a PhD in Latin American Studies at University College London before publishing the novels La Resta and Limpia and the book of essays Las Homicidas. She was a finalist for the International Booker Prize for Sophie Hughes’ translation of her novel The Remainder.

Her submitted work for the Award is Impudence (Descaro). Combining a thriller at its core with the diary of a female academic obsessively writing a book about the face following a prosthetic procedure, the project weaves fiction with memoir and essay to explore portrayals of Latin American women and our relationship with the female face, identity and loss. The judges said: “We were inspired by what promises to be an original and radical mix of fiction, autobiography and essay and a piece of writing which asks the question: how does our face inform who we are?”

Discover more about the Award and its past winners here.