Annal: 2000 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 2000.

Book:Experience

Experience: A Memoir

Martin Amis

Perhaps the most gifted and innovative novelist of his generation, Martin Amis has been the object of obsessive media scrutiny for much of his career. In this much anticipated memoir, he writes with striking candor about his life and, in the process, gives us a clear view of the “geography of the writer’s mind”.

The son of the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis explores his relationship with his father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley’s life, including the final crisis of his death. Amis also reflects on the life and legacy of his cousin, Lucy Partington, who disappeared without trace in 1973 and was exhumed nearly twenty years later from the back garden of Frederick West, Britain’s most prolific serial murderers.

Inevitably, too, the memoir records the changing literary scene in Britain and the United States, including a wealth of…[more]

Book:The Broken Tower

The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane

Paul Mariani

Few poets have lived as extraordinary and fascinating a life as Hart Crane, the American poet who made his meteoric rise in the late 1920s and then flamed out just as suddenly, killing himself at the age of 32 and thus turning his life and poetry into the stuff of myth. A midwesterner who came to New York to remake not only the city but also American poetry, Crane insisted on walking on the edge, living hard and drinking harder. Part of the New York gay scene of his time, he also played a central part in the avant-garde New York literary world, along with Cummings, Moore, Toomer, and Williams. But most of all, he gave us a singular poetry, including his famous “The Bridge” (his epic celebrating the fabled Brooklyn Bridge), along with a poetic cadence that has never been duplicated.

The first biography of Crane to appear in thirty years, The Broken Tower includes major new discoveries about Crane’s…[more]

Book:The Pale Abyssinian

The Pale Abyssinian: The Life of James Bruce, African Explorer and Adventurer

Miles Bredin

How is it that James Bruce is not better known? His is the most extraordinary life story, a tale of adventure and derring-do in the grand old tradition. We think of the 19th-century David Livingstone as a great African explorer but Livingstone himself called Bruce “a greater traveller than any of us”, a man who explored the sources of the River Nile a hundred years earlier. Near the beginning of this marvellous biography Bredin summarises his subject’s travels: “Bruce had crossed the Nubian Desert, climbed the bandit-bedevilled mountains of Abyssinia, been…

Book:Rimbaud

Rimbaud: A Biography

Graham Robb

The poet’s life was stranger than any fiction: explorer, mercenary, gun runner, and companion to slave traders. Unknown beyond the avant-garde at the time of his death, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) has been one of the most destructive and liberating influences on twentieth-century culture. During his lifetime he was a bourgeois-baiting visionary, a reinventor of language and perception, a breaker of taboos. The list of his known crimes is longer than the list of his published poems.

But his posthumous career is even more astonishing: saint to symbolists and surrealists; poster child for anarchy and drug use; gay pioneer; and a major influence on such artists as Picasso, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison. At the age of twenty-one, Rimbaud turned his back on his artistic achievement. For his remaining sixteen years he lived in exile, ending up as a major explorer and arms trader in Abyssinia.

The genius of Graham Robb’s account is to join the two halves of this life, to show Rimbaud’s wild and unsettling poetry as a blueprint for the exotic adventures to come. This is the story of Rimbaud the explorer, in mind and in matter.

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