James Shapiro Wins Baillie Gifford Prize’s 25th Anniversary Winner of Winners Award

James Shapiro has won Baillie Gifford's anniversary prize with ‘remarkable’ Shakespeare biography 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

May 02, 2023

James Shapiro's account of “how Shakespeare became Shakespeare” has been named the greatest-ever winner of the U.K.’s premier non-fiction book prize.

Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare won the Baillie Gifford Prize Winner of Winners award on Thursday, April 27. It was crowned from a field of six finalists drawn from the 24 winners of the Baillie Gifford Prize, which marks its 25th edition this year.

Shapiro's 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, which originally won in the prize in 2006, explores a pivotal year in the life of the playwright who, in the course of 1599, penned Henry VJulius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. Shapiro has been honored again at a ceremony at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, and will receive £25,000. The chair of judges, the New Statesman’s editor-in-chief Jason Cowley, praised the work as a “poised and original reimagination of biography.”

Shapiro told The Associated Press it was “extraordinarily gratifying” that the book is still read and recommended, almost 20 years after it was first published.

“I hated Shakespeare in high school,” said Shapiro, now regarded as one of America’s leading Shakespearean scholars. “(I) wanted to write a book for people who, like me, didn’t necessarily get what this writer and his books were about. I think that’s one of the reasons why this book still has legs.”

More information about Shapiro, 1599, and the Baillie Gifford Prize Winner of Winners award can be found in articles written by The Washington Post, The Guardian, and the Baillie Gifford Prize website.