The Costa Book Awards

Costa Book Awards logo

The Costa Book Awards honour some of the most outstanding books of the year written by authors based in the UK and Ireland. There are five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – with one of the five winners chosen as Book of the Year, announced at an awards ceremony in London every January.

Launched in 1971 as the Whitbread Literary Awards, they became the Whitbread Book Awards in 1985, with Costa taking over in 2006.

Costa book awards scrapped suddenly after 50 years

Coffee company announces ‘difficult decision’ to end the prizes, sparking a chorus of disappointment across the books industry

The 2021 category winners of the Costa book awards
Last orders … the 2021 category winners of the Costa book awards Photograph: Costa book awards
Fri 10 Jun 2022 14.00 BST

Last modified on Fri 10 Jun 2022 18.23 BST

The Costa book awards, after running for half a century, have been abruptly scrapped. The coffee shop chain has said the 2021 awards, which were announced in February this year, were the last.

In a statement from the company, which is owned by Coca-Cola, Costa’s CEO Jill McDonald said: “After 50 years of celebrating some of the most enjoyable books written by hugely talented authors from across the UK and Ireland, Costa Coffee has taken the difficult decision to end the book awards.”

McDonald added that the company was “incredibly proud” to have supported the awards, and thanked “all those who have been involved and supported them over the years”.

The awards were established in 1971 and known as the Whitbread book awards until 2005, when Costa took over the running and financing. Whitbread sold Costa to Coca-Cola in 2019. This year, the total prize fund for the awards was £60,000.

The book of the year for 2021 was The Kids by Hannah Lowe, a former London teacher, whose book of sonnets drew on her experiences in an inner-city sixth form.

Hannah Lowe.
Costa winner Hannah Lowe: ‘Should teachers write about students? That question’s too categorical’
Read more

The children’s book of year prize was the only literary award won by Roald Dahl, for The Witches in 1983. Overall book of the year winners have included Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, which narrowly beat JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 1999. Iris Murdoch and Paul Theroux were winners in the 1970s, and Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass became the first children’s book to win book of the year in 2001.

Costa – which according to reports of parent company Coca-Cola earlier this year has been enjoying strong sales – said that there are no plans for the awards to be taken over by anyone else. The company has not yet given a reason for closing them.

Bea Carvalho, head of fiction at Waterstones said, “The Costa book awards have played a huge part in the success of some of the very best English-language books over the last 50 years and have helped to elevate the careers of some of the most exciting, important and talented writers at work today.” She added that booksellers will “miss the prize greatly” but that she and her colleagues “look forward to championing the excellent previous winners including The Mermaid of Black Conch, H is for Hawk, and Small Island for many years to come. The Costa awards’ influence in our bookshops does not end here!”

Novelist Damian Barr tweeted: “Oh no! I was a judge this year – all the category judges and your team did such great work. The prizes have done so much to get so many books to so many people. What a shame!”

Nelle Andrew, a literary agent with RML, also tweeted to express dismay. “Devastated to hear the news,” she wrote. “This is a huge blow for the industry and authors alike. Thank you to the awards for the championing they have done in 50 years but it is a huge loss & reinforces how important they were to us all.”

Acknowledgements: The Guardian