An award-winning poet, a best-selling American author and a Man Booker Prize contender are on the shortlist for Britain's oldest literary award, it was announced today.
The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh for the best work of fiction and the best biography published during the previous year.
Acclaimed writers John Burnside, Daniel Mason and Mohsin Hamid are on the 2008 shortlist for the £10,000 awards, along with Rosalind Belben and newcomer Gee Williams.
Contenders for the biography prize include accounts on philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill and architect Augustus Pugin who designed the Houses of Parliament.
Also in the running are novels about blues singer Blind Willie McTell, writer Edith Wharton and Stalin.
The awards were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband's love of literature.
Past winners include DH Lawrence, Graham Greene and Salman Rushdie.
Best-selling writers Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith are on the advisory committee.
The winners will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August.
Manager of the awards, Professor Colin Nicholson of the University of Edinburgh, said: "This year's short-listed novels combine cracking story-telling with exceptional writing skills, as do the nominated biographies, which additionally offer fascinating insights into the lives of some extraordinary people."
The five novels on the shortlist are
Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben
The Devil's Footprints by John Burnside
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
A Far Country by Daniel Mason
Salvage by Gee Williams.
The shortlisted biographies are
Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell by Michael Gray
God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain by Rosemary Hill
Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee
Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand by Richard Reeves.