The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014 was announced today by the chair of judges, poet Andrew Motion. Authors Elizabeth Gilbert, Emily Mayhew, Adam Rutherford, Oliver Sacks, Andrew Solomon and Sarah Wise are all in contention for this year’s Prize, which will be presented at a ceremony at Wellcome Collection on 29 April.
The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize was decided by a panel of judges comprising author Lisa Appignanesi, journalist Hadley Freeman, scientist and TV presenter Michael Mosley, former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion (chair), and novelist and Head of Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre James Runcie.
The shortlisted titles are:
'The Signature of All Things' by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury)
'Wounded: From Battlefield to Blighty' by Emily Mayhew (The Bodley Head, Random House)
'Creation: The origin of life' by Adam Rutherford (Viking, Penguin Books)
'Hallucinations' by Oliver Sacks (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
'Far From the Tree: A dozen kinds of love' by Andrew Solomon (Chatto & Windus, Random House)
'Inconvenient People' by Sarah Wise (The Bodley Head, Random House).
The list spans genres and brings together six thrillingly diverse explorations of medicine and health, including a novel about botany and exploration, the story of an injured World War I soldier, a survey of parenting and human difference, a scientific account of the story of life, a study of hallucinations, and a history of lunacy and asylums in Victorian times.
The Wellcome Book Prize, which was relaunched in November to celebrate its fifth anniversary, will award £30 000 (an increase from £25 000) to the best book of fiction or non-fiction from 2013 which leads on a medical theme. We are all touched by experiences of medicine and health in our lives, and stories that explore these encounters have great capacity to make us think afresh about what it means to be human. The judges were looking for books that reward curiosity, inspire debate, move us, and through writing of the highest quality challenge the ways in which we imagine ourselves and the world around us.
Wellcome Collection's literary ambitions are expanding alongside a £17.5m development of its venue due to overwhelming demand. New spaces, opening in October 2014, include a transformation of the Wellcome Library’s historic Reading Room into an innovative hybrid of gallery, library and event space, and a home for the Wellcome Book Prize.
Chair of judges Andrew Motion said: "The Wellcome Book Prize highlights the importance of literature in connecting medicine, life and art. We have produced a shortlist that covers an exciting range of subjects and genres - six excellent books that in their different ways all tell us new and often surprising things about the human condition. They range from frightening tales of 'inconvenient' Victorians to the strange world of hallucinations, from the return journeys of Great War battlefield casualties to an important new concept of 'horizontal families', and from a beautiful story of a 19th-century explorer to a fresh take on the origins of life."
Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection Ken Arnold said: "The wonderful range of genres and subjects in this shortlist affirms the abundant variety of inspiration and insight that literature and medicine hold for one another. In a year when Wellcome Collection is expanding its galleries and spaces with a major redevelopment of our venue, and developing a wider publishing programme, the Wellcome Book Prize sits at the centre of our literary ambitions, enriching and inciting further our curiosity about the human condition. Choosing a winner will be a fiendishly difficult task, and I wait with bated breath to hear which version of wonder and imagination will win the day."
The Wellcome Book Prize is open to both fiction and non-fiction titles which have been published in the UK during the Prize year. The shortlist includes a varied mixture of fiction, history, science and biography to fully represent the breadth of this exciting brief. Previous winners of the prize have been Thomas Wright for 'Circulation' in 2012, Alice LaPlante for 'Turn of Mind' in 2011, Rebecca Skloot for 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' in 2010, and Andrea Gillies for 'Keeper: Living with Nancy - A journey into Alzheimer's' in 2009.
Sir Andrew Motion is a poet, critic, biographer, novelist and teacher. From 1976 to 1981 he worked at the University of Hull, where he became friends with the poet Philip Larkin, whose biography he later wrote; subsequently he was Editor of the 'Poetry Review' and Editorial Director at Chatto and Windus. He returned to academia in 1989, and is now Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Andrew Motion has received numerous awards for his work, including the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Somerset Maugham Prize and the Whitbread Prize for biography. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1999 and was knighted for his services to poetry in 2009. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, co-founder and co-director of the Poetry Archive and Poetry by Heart, and President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Dr Lisa Appignanesi OBE is a writer, novelist and cultural commentator. She is a Visiting Professor in English and the Medical Humanities at King's College London and is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Freud Museum. Lisa was deputy director of the ICA in the 1980s and President of English PEN from 2008 to 2011. She has made TV and radio programmes and published over 15 books, including bestselling novels and critically acclaimed nonfiction, such as the prizewinning 'Mad, Bad and Sad' and 'Losing the Dead'.
Hadley Freeman has been a staff writer for the Guardian since 2000, where she is currently a columnist and features writer. Her second book, 'Be Awesome', was published by 4th Estate in May 2013.
Dr Michael Mosley is a BBC journalist, presenter and producer. Michael studied PPE at Oxford University and worked in the City. He then studied medicine before joining the BBC as a trainee assistant producer. He now writes and presents award-winning programmes on history, medicine and science including 'Eat, Fast & Live Longer' (2012), which gave rise to the popular 5:2 diet. Michael was named Medical Journalist of the Year by the British Medical Association.
The Hon. James Runcie is Head of Literature and Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre in London, a writer and a maker of documentary film. He has written six novels, including the Grantchester Mysteries series, has won numerous awards for his film work, and is on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors. He was formerly the Artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival, and is Visiting Professor at Bath Spa University.
About Wellcome Collection
Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, the venue explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises gallery spaces, a public events programme, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club. Wellcome Collection is growing. A £17.5 million development will deliver new galleries and spaces in October 2014 - find out more.
Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.