Katherine Rundell was crowned the winner at a ceremony held at the Science Museum (Ian West/PA)
17 November 2022

‘Exquisitely rendered’ biography of poet wins Baillie Gifford Prize

17 November 2022

Author Katherine Rundell has been awarded the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction for her modern biography documenting the many sides of poet, scholar and priest John Donne.

Rundell, who is a Fellow at Oxford’s All Souls College, took 10 years and three drafts to write Super-Infinite: The Transformations Of John Donne which received the literary award on Thursday.

The British writer takes home the £50,000 prize, with chair of judges and associate editor of The Bookseller, Caroline Sanderson, describing the book as “exquisitely rendered”.

She continued: “It’s passion, playfulness and sparkling prose seduced all of us. Rundell makes an irresistible case for Donne’s work to be widely read 400 years later, for all the electric joy and love it expresses.

“And in so doing, she gives us a myriad reasons why poetry – why the arts – matter.”

Rundell’s biography provides insight into the myriad lives Donne lived, as a scholar of law, an MP, a priest, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral and a poet.

The panel who selected the winner included BBC broadcaster Clive Myrie, writer and science journalist Laura Spinney, author and New Yorker writer Samanth Subramanian and critic and broadcaster Georgina Godwin.

Their selection was made from 362 books published between November 1 2021 and October 31 this year.

Other shortlisted titles for the prize included Legacy Of Violence: A History Of The British Empire by Caroline Elkins, Polly Morland’s A Fortunate Woman: A Country Doctor’s Story, and My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge On The World’s Deadliest Migration Route by Sally Hayden.

Rundell, who wrote her PhD thesis on Donne, was crowned the winner at the ceremony held at the Science Museum on Thursday evening.

The prize, which was first awarded in 1999 to Antony Beevor for Stalingrad, was open to books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

Last year’s winner Patrick Radden Keefe’s book, Empire Of Pain: The Secret History Of The Sackler Dynasty, went on to become a Sunday Times bestseller.

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