Writer follows in father’s footsteps by winning James Tait Black Prize

A writer has told how she performed an “Oedipal coup” when she received a prestigious literary prize – almost four decades after her father received a similar honour.

American-born author Lucy Ellmann won the James Tait Black Prize for fiction for her novel Ducks, Newburyport, a story composed entirely via the internal monologue of an Ohio mother-of-four.

The James Tait Prize is the UK’s longest-running literary awards, with prizes awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh.

Ms Ellman, who is based in Edinburgh, said: “Amid the daily assaults on our lives and intelligence, it is really cheering to receive this prize.

“My father (Richard) won the James Tait Black in 1982 (for his biography of James Joyce), so it feels like quite an Oedipal coup for me to get one!”

Ms Ellman won this year’s award for fiction, with George Szirtes winning the biography prize for his work The Photographer At Sixteen, about his mother Magda, a Holocaust survivor.

Mr Szirtes said: “I am delighted, grateful and astonished to be awarded the James Tait Black Prize, especially given such a marvellous shortlist.

“I am a poet and the book is written much as a poet would write it – not so much a straight story (but) as a set of mysteries in reverse time order, starting from my mother’s suicide in 1975, through concentration camps and refugee status, ending with a set of studio photographs of her early childhood in Transylvania.

“She died before she saw any of my books in print. The Photographer At Sixteen is an attempt to bring her to life.”

The winners of the £10,000 prizes were announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which is being held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.