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Hitch your wagon to a star

Queen's prof vies for U.K.'s oldest literary prize

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 / 4:07 PM ET : CBC News .

Queen's University professor Robert Morrison has been shortlisted for the U.K.'s most venerable literary award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Morrison, an English professor at the Kingston, Ont., school, is a nominee for The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey, which explores the life of the British intellectual and author.

Founded in 1919 and awarded by the University of Edinburgh, the annual prize celebrates literature written in English by authors of any nationality, published in the previous year.

The award, worth £10,000 (about $14,300), is presented in two categories: biography and fiction.

"I am gobsmacked," Morrison said in a statement. "Being shortlisted for the oldest literary prize in Britain seems impossible. I am absolutely elated."

He faces three U.K. writers and an American for the biography honour:

  • Cheever: A life, by Blake Bailey, U.S.
  • William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, by John Carey, U.K.
  • Muriel Spark: The Biography, by Martin Stannard, U.K.
  • A Different Drummer: The Life of Kenneth MacMillan, by Jann Parry, U.K.

Debut U.S. novelist Reif Larsen, nominated for The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, faces four literary heavyweights — all past winners of the coveted Man Booker prize — for the fiction honour:

  • Strangers, by Anita Brookner, U.K.
  • The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt, U.K.
  • Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro, Japan-U.K.
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, U.K.

"Not for the first time, we've left ourselves with a bit of a headache — a set of books, each one of which is eminently worthy of the awards," University of Edinburgh literature professor and awards manager Colin Nicholson said of this year's short list.

Past winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize have included D.H. Lawrence, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith.

This year's winners will be announced during the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August.

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