James Shapiro’s book called 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare has been named winner of the £25,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction “Winner of Winners” Award.
The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction Winner of Winners Award marks the 25thanniversary of the UK’s premier non-fiction book prize by crowning the best work of non-fiction from the last 25 years of the prize.
The winner was announced by Chair of Judges Jason Cowley at a ceremony hosted at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
As the winner Shapiro will receive £25,000.
The winner was chosen by a judging panel comprising: New Statesman editor-in-chief, Jason Cowley (chair); academic, critic and broadcaster, Shahidha Bari; journalist, author and academic, Sarah Churchwell; and biographer and critic Frances Wilson.
Their selection was made from a shortlist of six books, taken from the previous 24 prizewinning books.
In the course of 1599, Shakespeare completed Henry V, wrote Julius Caesar and As You Like It in quick succession, and produced the first draft of Hamlet.
Shapiro is Professor of English at Columbia University, where he teaches Shakespeare.
Shapiro’s earlier books have received international acclaim, including 1606: The Year of Lear, which won the James Tait Black Prize; and Shakespeare in a Divided America, selected as one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times.
Shapiro is also the author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, Oberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World’s Most Famous Passion Play, Shakespeare and the Jews, and Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, and edited the Library of America anthology, Shakespeare in America.
Jason Cowley, Chair of Judges, said: “1599 is a remarkable and compelling book. A history of four masterpieces and of so much more, it produces a life of Shakespeare, about whom so little is known, through a ingenious fusion of history, politics, and literary criticism.
“The result is a poised and original re-imagination of biography. Shapiro returns Shakespeare to the stage of his own world, and in so doing he transforms our understanding – not only of the great works but also of the social atmosphere of his times.
“Erudite, accessible and formally bold, it will appeal to anyone interested in history, politics, literature and good writing.’
Toby Mundy, Prize Director, said: “‘This has been an heroic, epic undertaking by our judges.
“They’ve had to grapple with some of the most brilliant non-fiction books written in English in the last quarter century and have done so with astonishing seriousness and engagement.
“It’s wonderful to think that, thanks to these judges, a new generation of readers can discover James Shapiro’s timeless classic.”
Peter Singlehurst, Partner at Baillie Gifford, said: “The strapline for the Baillie Gifford Prize is ‘all the best stories are true’.
“But it is not necessarily their factfulness that makes these books so special, it is the stories about people, ordinary and extraordinary.
“Choosing one book seems an impossible task and we thank the judges for taking on the unenviable responsibility. Many congratulation to James Shapiro.”