Celebrating 50
years of enjoyable books

It all started in 1971

Costa Book Awards 50th Logo2021 marks 50 years of the prestigious and popular Costa Book Awards – a milestone anniversary for these much-loved Awards synonymous for rewarding and celebrating highly readable and recommendable books that anyone and everyone can enjoy.

Originally established in 1971, the roll-call of winners has included some of the best-loved, highest-profile and bestselling books of the past half century with shortlisted and winning books going on to be enjoyed by huge numbers of readers.

Here we take you on a walk through the five decades of the Awards, highlighting just a few of the memorable moments along the way and showcasing the extensive archive of enjoyable reads.

1970s

The Awards launch in 1971 with the aim of seeking the most enjoyable books of the year. Judges Margaret Drabble, JB Priestley and Anthony Thwaite choose a novel, biography and work of poetry in the inaugural year. Winners in the first decade also include Iris Murdoch, Paul Theroux, Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Lively and Quentin Blake.

1980s

The Awards’ second decade sees the introduction of the prestigious Book of the Year in 1985 – first awarded to Elegies by the poet Douglas Dunn - and a formalisation of the category system; first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children’s book, still in use today and unique to these Awards.

1990s

Debut novelist Kate Atkinson wins the Book of the Year in 1995 for her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum which goes on to sell over a million copies. Poetry wins the overall Award for four consecutive years alternating between Seamus Heaney (in 96 and 99) and Ted Hughes in 97 and posthumously in 98.

2000s

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman becomes the first children’s book to win Book of the Year in 2001 and in 2006 Costa Coffee takes over from Whitbread as the book prize’s new owner. The first ‘Costa’ Book of the Year is awarded to The Tenderness of Wolves, the debut novel by Steph Penney which goes on to be translated into 30 languages.

2010s

The Costa Short Story Award launches in 2012, a separate award judged and voted for anonymously. Irish novelist Sebastian Barry takes the Book of the Year for the second time (in 2016) becoming the first novelist to win the overall Prize twice. 2020 sees the Awards going virtual for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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There's been a grand total of 232 winners of the awards so far

The reigning winner is
The Mermaid of Black Conch
by Monique Roffey

The judges described the book as ‘extraordinary and utterly original’. Watch the highlights from the 2020 virtual ceremony including the moment Monique finds out her mermaid has scooped the main Prize.

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There have been 36 books of the year to date, the most awarded to the Novel category with 13 wins

The judges

More than 700 category and final judges have presided over the Awards since 1971 including; Floella Benjamin, Hugh Grant, Jerry Hall, Simon Mayo, Graham Norton, Richard Osman, Rosamund Pike, Hugh Quarshie and Sharleen Spiteri.

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The oldest winner, Diana Athill, won the 2008 Biography Award aged 91, the youngest is Christopher Nolan who won Book of the Year in 1987 aged 22

Costa Book of the Year
Awards Ceremony

Watch highlights from previous Costa Book of the Year award ceremonies.