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Heather Clark, Red Comet | Best First Biography Prize 2020

Heather Clark wins The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2020 for Red Comet

Slightly Foxed and The Biographers’ Club are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 prize, chosen by judges Rupert Christiansen, Selina Hastings and Alexander Masters, is Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark.

Heather Clark earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Harvard University and her doctorate in English from Oxford University. She is the author of two award-winning books on post-war poetry, The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast 1962–1972. She divides her time between Chappaqua, New York, and Yorkshire, England, where she is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield.

Red Comet is the first biography of this great and tragic poet that takes advantage of a wealth of new material, this is an unusually balanced, comprehensive and definitive life of Sylvia Plath.

Red Comet is an astoundingly detailed reappraisal of Sylvia Plath and her influences, and of her relationships with her mother, Ted Hughes and mental illness. Through the exposure of fresh material and a bold critique of the many clichéd interpretations of Plath’s life, Heather Clark has brought us a ground-breaking biography of great narrative and perceptive force. This is traditional biography writing at its subtle best: meticulous, erudite, encompassing, based on excellent research, justified by important discoveries and leading us to new thoughts about one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.’ Alexander Masters, for the judges

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About the Prize

The Prize is awarded to the best book published by a first-time biographer or memoirist. The 2020 winner was announced on 9 March 2021. This is the seventh year of the literary quarterly and independent publisher Slightly Foxed’s sponsorship of the Biographers’ Club Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize, with a winner’s award of £2,500. Previous winners: Jonathan Phillips, The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin; Bart van Es, The Cut Out Girl; Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter; Hisham Matar, The Return; Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son; Claudia Renton, Those Wild Wyndhams; Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher; Thomas Penn, Winter King; and Matthew Hollis, Now All Roads Lead to France.

2020 Shortlist

  • Heather Clark, Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath (Jonathan Cape)
  • Hadley Freeman, House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family (4th Estate)
  • Sudhir Hazareesingh, Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Allen Lane)
  • Shelley Klein, The See-Through House: My Father in Full Colour (Chatto & Windus)
  • Jonathan Lichtenstein, The Berlin Shadow: Living with the Ghosts of the Kindertransport (Scribner)

2020 Judges

  • Rupert Christiansen is the former arts and opera critic of the Daily Telegraph, and author of twelve books, including a biography of Arthur Hugh Clough. His memoir I Know You’re Going to be Happy won Spear’s Memoir of the Year prize in 2013.
  • Selina Hastings is a journalist and biographer of Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Rosamond Lehmann, Somerset Maugham and Sybille Bedford. In 2011 she received the Biographers’ Club Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Alexander Masters is an author whose works include Stuart, A Life Backwards, The Genius in My Basement and A Life Discarded. He was the recipient of the Biographers’ Club Exceptional Contribution to Biography Award in 2021.

Slightly Foxed

Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly and its acclaimed list of classic limited-edition memoirs have become something of an institution in the literary world. Contributors to the magazine include: Diana Athill, Quentin Blake, Ronald Blythe, Margaret Drabble, Adam Foulds, Melissa Harrison, Michael Holroyd, Amy Liptrot, Penelope Lively, Richard Mabey, Robert Macfarlane, Dervla Murphy, Sarah Perry, Jane Ridley, Christopher Rush, Posy Simmonds, Adam Sisman and Ali Smith

‘A wonderful publication, at once unpretentious and lively, edifying and fun. It manages to be not only a superb guide to many excellent books but also to offer writing of its own that is remarkably entertaining.’ The Author

The Slightly Foxed series of memoirs includes works by: Edward Ardizzone, Adrian Bell, Jennie Erdal, Graham Greene, Diana Holman-Hunt, Michael Holroyd, Hilary Mantel, Gavin Maxwell, Jan Morris, Eric Newby, Ernest Shepard and Rosemary Sutcliff.

‘The business of reading should please the hand and eye as well as the brain, and Slightly Foxed editions – books or quarterly – are elegant creations. Content follows form, offering new discoveries and old favourites to curious and discriminating readers.’ Hilary Mantel


For more information about Slightly Foxed or the Prize please contact:

Steph Allen/Hattie Summers
[email protected]
020 7729 9368; +44 20 7729 9368

Comments & Reviews

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  1. Ms. Ainee C. Beland says:

    Lovely and congrats!

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