Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon wins the Wellcome Book Prize 2014
"It's a book everyone should read… there's no one who wouldn't be a more imaginative and understanding parent - or human being - for having done so… a wise and beautiful book." 'New York Times'
Andrew Solomon has been announced as the winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2014 for 'Far from the Tree: a dozen kinds of love', published by Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Vintage. Now in its fifth year, the Wellcome Book Prize, worth £30 000, aims to recognise and celebrate the best new work of fiction or non-fiction released each year centred on medicine and health.
National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon is a writer and activist working on politics, culture and psychology. Selected from a six-strong shortlist, 'Far from the Tree' is a monumental work, a decade in the writing, about family. It tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.
Sir Andrew Motion, Chair of Judges, said: "Andrew Solomon's 'Far from the Tree' was chosen unanimously as the winner by the judges of this year's Wellcome Book Prize: we all felt it to be a truly outstanding book on a very strong shortlist. Solomon has already been widely praised for his depth of research, his writerly flair and his range of address - and all these things are indeed remarkable: the book took him ten years to write, and the benefits of his patience and thoughtfulness are evident everywhere. But its greatest strength, perhaps, is to combine proper scholarly objectivity with a sense of intimate connection - and to do so in ways that allow for the creation of distinct categories and clear conclusions, while at the same time admitting contradictions and exceptions. It is, in other words, a very well-organised book yet a very generous-minded one: a profound reflection on the family, and on the influence of medicine and science. And not only that. It's also a book that is driven powerfully by an appeal to personal experience - by Solomon's recollections of growing up as a gay man, and by his exploration of the difficulties and opportunities this created for him. Taken all together, these things make it an exceptionally distinguished winner: startlingly intelligent, generously compassionate, memorably insightful, and courageous."
Andrew Solomon said: "I am profoundly honoured to receive the Wellcome Book Prize and am very grateful to the judges for their generous reading of my work. There sometimes seems to be an opposition between the social progress that allows us to accept the range of human difference and the medical progress that allows us to cure and eliminate many such differences. My book is about the extraordinary stories of love and compassion that unfold around this duality. For such work to be recognised by a prize that is specifically focused on medicine and health indicates the increasing openness to the nuanced questions of what constitutes health, and what the appropriate parameters are for medicine. The Wellcome Book Prize is a tribute to the many families I interviewed while writing the book, who told me their stories with such bracing honesty and such unyielding passion. I accept this prize on their behalf, with admiration for the human spirit that allowed so many of them to end up grateful for lives they would once have done anything to avoid, that allowed them to love and fight for children whom so much of society might have dismissed. The backdrop to the book, woven through its chapters, is my own experience as a child who was miserable about being gay and as an adult who has found joy with my husband and our children. For this award to come so soon after the UK has passed gay marriage is especially cheering; my husband and I first celebrated our civil partnership in the UK in 2007, and we are overjoyed, as are so many other people enmeshed in love, to be able to assume that beautiful word for our relationship. That, like this prize, marks a more tolerant, kinder world. This is a rapturous day for me."
Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, said: "Reading 'Far from the Tree' convinces us that we've always known that people can live in 'horizontal' as well as 'vertical families'; but it's taken the genius of Solomon as a researcher, a thinker and a writer to make it thrillingly clear for all to see. This is a game-changing book, altering forever our understanding of how we relate to those around us, near and far. The perfect winner for the Wellcome Book Prize, which seeks to champion and celebrate curiosity-led writing, reading and living!"
Andrew Solomon was presented with the winner's trophy by Sir Andrew Motion, Chair of Judges, and with a cheque for £30 000. The artist Angela Palmer created a new sculpture for the award trophy, formed of multiple sheets of glass depicting MRI scans of her own brain. Palmer felt that the image of the brain was appropriate as it is "the organ from which all curiosity springs". The ceremony at the Wellcome Collection Atrium in central London was attended by leading publishers, agents, writers and cultural figures. Guests were treated to a set design featuring an indoor forest of handcrafted trees, and a textured wall constructed entirely from paperback books.
The judging panel for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014 consisted of: the writer and former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion; writer and cultural commentator Lisa Appignanesi; novelist, film-maker and Head of Literature at the Southbank Centre James Runcie; medical journalist and television presenter Michael Mosley; and 'Guardian' columnist Hadley Freeman.
About Far from the Tree
'Far from the Tree' is a seminal book on how parents relate to their children: it will change the way you think about families and identity. Drawing on interviews with over 300 families, covering subjects including deafness, dwarfism, Down's syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, prodigies, children born of rape, children convicted of crime and transgender people, Andrew Solomon documents ordinary people making courageous choices. Difference is potentially isolating, but 'Far from the Tree' celebrates repeated triumphs of human love and compassion to show that the shared experience of difference is what unites us.
"This book starts out as a study of parents raising 'difficult' children, and ends up as an affirmation of what it is to be human." 'Guardian'
"A catalogue of astonishing tenacity and unexpected joy that inevitably expands both our sympathies and sense of wonder at the immense variety of human experiences." 'Financial Times'
About Andrew Solomon
Andrew Solomon is a writer and activist working on politics, culture and psychology. He writes regularly for the 'New Yorker', 'Newsweek' and the 'Guardian'. He is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Cornell University and Special Adviser on LGBT Affairs to Yale University's Department of Psychiatry. 'The Noonday Demon' won the 2001 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. 'Far from the Tree' won the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Non-fiction, the Lukas Book Prize and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, among others.
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