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H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald wins 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

4 November 2014

Helen Macdonald has tonight, Tuesday 4 November, been announced the winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, for her book H is For Hawk, published by Jonathan Cape. 

H is For Hawk tells the story of how the death of Helen’s father triggered her to follow a childhood dream and become a falconer, obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. The book is an unflinchingly honest account of her struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk's taming and her own untaming. At the same time, it's a kaleidoscopic biography of the brilliant and troubled novelist T. H. White, author of The Goshawk, in which he describes his own struggle to train a hawk.

Claire Tomalin, chair of judges, comments:

‘Congratulations to Helen Macdonald, who has written a book unlike any other, about an obsession with a wild creature, brought to life in prose sometimes technical and always striking, and set in English landscapes observed with a visionary eye.   Writing about wild life and the environment has never been better or better informed than this.’

Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her previous books include Falcon (2006) and Shaler’s Fish (2001).

The £20,000 prize was presented to Helen by Claire Tomalin, author and historian, and chair of judges for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize, at a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Together with Claire, this year’s judges were Alan Johnson MP; Financial Times Books Editor Lorien Kite; philosopher Ray Monk; and historian Ruth Scurr.

This year’s shortlist combined biography, memoir and history with subjects as diverse as hawks, family history and dying. Alongside H is for Hawk, the other five titles in contention for the prize were: John Campbell’s biography Roy Jenkins (Jonathan Cape); Marion Coutts’s The Iceberg: A Memoir (Atlantic); Greg Grandin’s The Empire of Necessity (Oneworld); Alison Light’s Common People (Fig Tree); and Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France (Chatto & Windus).

There were four female authors on this year’s shortlist, the most in the prize’s history, and this is the first time that a female author has won the prize in two consecutive years. Lucy Hughes-Hallett was winner of the 2013 prize for her book The Pike (4th Estate), which went on to win the 2013 Costa Book Award for Biography.