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Strathclyde Professor wins in Saltire Literary Awards

Professor Kirstie Blair with her Research Book of the Year award and her book, Working Verse In Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community. Photo by Graham Clark

A Professor of English Literature at the University of Strathclyde has been announced as the overall winner of Scotland’s national book awards.

Professor Kirstie Blair, Head of Strathclyde’s School of Humanities, received the Book of the Year prize in the Saltire Society Literary Awards. She was also the winner in the Research Book of the Year category.

She received the awards for her book Working Verse In Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community, which reassesses the poetry produced in the Victorian era by working-class people. It studies a wide variety of largely overlooked writers and explores the political, social and cultural aspects of their work.

The winners were announced at a ceremony at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Professor Blair said: “I’m honoured to win these awards from the Saltire Society, and delighted that the judges were impressed by Working Verse. The book studies a wide range of little-known working-class writers and poems from across Scotland, and I’m happy that these awards recognize the richness and diversity of the local and regional culture that I discuss, and might help to bring these writers to further attention.

“There’s a great deal left to discover in relation to the poets and other writers of Victorian Scotland, and the grassroots culture of creativity and literary work that flourished from the rural village to the new industrial workplaces. The book includes farm workers, servants, factory workers, miners, railway workers, engineers, policemen, and many more aspiring poets from a wide range of professions.

“I had fantastic support in writing this book from colleagues in Scottish studies at Strathclyde and the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling, and also from the Leverhulme Trust, the Carnegie Trust, and the readers and editors at Oxford University Press. The book also builds on the pioneering work of scholars like William Donaldson and Tom Leonard, and their studies of popular Scottish culture and radical poetry, as well as the many wider studies of working-class literature in Victorian Britain.

“Since completing Working Verse, I’ve been fortunate to gain funding to pursue more research into working-class literature in Scotland and the North of England through the Piston, Pen & Press project, and the team on this have already uncovered great new writers and material that will expand our understanding of this field still further.”

Accessibility

The Saltire Society said of Professor Blair’s book: “The judges found its accessibility in subject and in its writing profound. The fact that it is an important, significant piece of research did not discolour its enjoyability, with laugh-out-loud moments and fascinating facts. The judges felt a warmth from it and to it.”

Sarah Mason, Programme Director for the Saltire Society, said: “Scotland’s National Book Awards 2019 have again shown the astounding literary talent of Scotland and we congratulate all our recipients and shortlistees.

“As well as being a vital opportunity for the Saltire Society and its partners to celebrate and recognise creativity in literature and publishing, the Awards raise their wider profile both nationally and internationally.

“The breadth of talent shown by the winners of the Saltire Society’s Awards show that Scotland’s literary scene is in very safe, very gifted hands. “

Professor Blair joined Strathclyde in 2016 and became Head of School in 2018. Her main research expertise is in Victorian literature and culture, particularly poetry and poetics, Scottish Victorian popular culture and literature, working-class writing, literature and religion and literature and medicine. She is also developing research and teaching interests in children's literature from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Professor Blair is co-leader of Piston, Pen & Press, a multimedia project with the University of Manchester and the National Railway Museum exploring the literary activity – as writers, readers and performers – of miners, railway workers and textile factory workers from the 1840s to the First World War. The project will produce a specially-commissioned play, a touring exhibition, talks, music performances and workshops.

Strathclyde is offering a series of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), in partnership with FutureLearn, related to Professor Blair’s research. Working Lives on Britain's Railways: Railway History and Heritage is run in collaboration with the National Railway Museum and is due to begin a new session in January 2020. Another, Working Lives in the Coal Mines, in collaboration Scottish National Mining Museum, the National Coal-Mining Museum for England, and the Big Pit, is also currently in progress.

Working Verse In Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community is published by Oxford University Press.