The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2016 was announced today by this year’s chair of judges, the acclaimed author, journalist and broadcaster Baroness Joan Bakewell DBE.
Joined by James Peto, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, Bakewell revealed the six shortlisted titles at a breakfast event held in Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room.
Celebrating the best new books that engage with any aspect of medicine, health or illness, the 2016 shortlist showcases the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through six exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction:
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate)
Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss (Granta)
It’s All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan (Chatto & Windus)
Playthings by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press)
The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador)
Neurotribes by Steve Silberman (Allen & Unwin)
From memoirs on addiction (The Outrun) and on the aftermath of a debilitating accident (The Last Act of Love) to studies on autism (Neurotribes) and psychosomatic illnesses (It’s All in Your Head), the non-fiction contenders reflect a broader preoccupation with the human mind, while the two works of fiction on the list offer an immersive account of schizophrenia (Playthings) and an account of the pioneering work of an early female medic (Signs for Lost Children). As a group, the titles represent a collective conversation on medicine in literature today, demonstrating the wealth of human experience this cultural sector explores.
Worth £30,000, the 2016 prize is judged by a panel comprising chair Joan Bakewell; Frances Balkwill OBE, Professor of Cancer Biology at Barts Cancer Institute and an author of science books for children; writer, columnist and salonnière Damian Barr; award-winning novelist Tessa Hadley; and award-winning journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera.
Joan Bakewell, Chair of Judges of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016, said:
“All the judges were engrossed by the range of books we had to consider: we each learned important things from the imaginative and inspiring way writers have addressed their subjects. It has been an exhilarating journey. The shortlist reflects what has moved and inspired us most about books that deal with intimate and often complex matters of the human body and human experience. Each one has found its way not just onto the shortlist, but into our hearts.”
James Peto, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, said:
“It is wonderful to see our judges’ shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2016. It proves again, I think, that Wellcome Collection’s concern with health and medicine, and more generally with the human condition, corresponds with an affecting, provocative and inspiring area of contemporary literature. I’m delighted that the shortlist encompasses both fact and fiction and offers such moving insights into both body and mind and the ways in which our health shapes our lives. There is a lot of excitement here in anticipation of the announcement in April of who the overall winner will be.”
Comments from the rest of this year’s judges:
“It’s been a huge privilege and education to judge the 2016 prize. The shortlisted books have inspired, fascinated, entertained and moved me to tears – often in equal measure.” – Professor Frances Balkwill
“Judging this prize has changed my reading life – I remembered that I wanted to be a doctor before I wanted to be a writer. It offers uniquely interdisciplinary delights – we see a scientist analysing a condition, then a character in a novel living with it. The shortlist could easily have been longer, but I encourage people to read all six books and experience that thrill of cross-genre thinking.” – Damian Barr
“What’s been so interesting, reading for the prize, is how many different ways there are of knowing about sickness and health, describing and exploring them: the subject has such powerful meaning, in memoir and in fiction, in medical speculation and in history.” – Tessa Hadley
“I wish I could judge the Wellcome Book Prize every year: I’ve read a whole range of books I wouldn’t normally have delved into, learned a huge deal in the process, and I think we have ended up with a really fantastic shortlist. Deciding on a winner is going to be tough.” – Sathnam Sanghera
Last year’s prize was awarded to Marion Coutts for her critically lauded memoir, The Iceberg. Previous winners of the prize also include Andrew Solomon for Far from the Tree: Parents, children and the search for identity in 2014, 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.
This year’s shortlisted writers will now benefit from the broad marketing, retail and events platform the Wellcome Book Prize offers, including a promotion with The Reading Agency reaching over 300 libraries UK-wide; marketing support across Foyles, Blackwell’s and over 300 independent bookshops across the country via Gardners and the Booksellers Association; plus spotlight events in the run-up to the winner announcement and beyond at Wellcome Collection, 5x15 and the Hay Festival.
Straplined books for the incurably curious, the prize is open to both fiction and non-fiction titles which have been published in the UK during the prize year. The winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016 will be announced on Monday 25 April at a special evening ceremony.