The Rathbones Folio Prize is to be held on Wednesday 24 March 2021. The prize – known as the “writers’ prize” — rewards the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form. The only award governed by an international academy of distinguished writers and critics, it ensures a unique quality and consistency in the nomination and judging process.
The 2021 shortlisted authors and novels are:
Indelicacy by Amina Cain, published by Daunt Books.
In an undefined era and place, a cleaning woman at a museum of art aspires to do more than simply dust the paintings around her. She dreams of having the liberty to explore them in writing, and so must find the way to win herself the security and time to use her mind. She escapes her lot by marrying a rich man, but having gained a husband, a house, high society and a maid, she finds that her new life of privilege is no less constrained. Not only has she taken up different forms of time-consuming labour — social and erotic — but she is now, however passively, forcing other women to clean up after her. Perhaps another and more drastic solution is necessary?
handiwork by Sara Baume, published by Tramp Press.
‘A glass jar of brushes is permanently accompanied by another of cloudy water, and a ball of clotted kitchen roll. The ferrules of the brushes are narrow and wide, rounded and straight; the bristles are natural and synthetic, soft and rough, filbert and fanned. I only ever use the same three, the plainest three, but I keep them all because I am constantly susceptible to future projects – to the possibility that some day I might be confronted with a surface that requires a more exotic class of stroke’.
handiwork is a contemplative short narrative from acclaimed writer and visual artist Sara Baume. It charts her daily process of making and writing, exploring what it is to create and to live as an artist. handiwork offers observations at once gentle and devastating, on the nature of art, grief and a life lived well. Baume’s first work of non-fiction offers readers a glimpse into the process of one Ireland’s best writers, written with the keen eye for nature and beauty as well as the extraordinary versatility Sara Baume’s fans have come to expect.
Poor by Caleb Femi, published by Penguin.
What is it like to grow up in a place where the same police officer who told your primary school class they were special stops and searches you at 13 because ‘you fit the description of a man’ – and where it is possible to walk two and a half miles through an estate of 1,444 homes without ever touching the ground?
In Poor, Caleb Femi combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. He contemplates the ways in which they are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage, writes a coded, near-mythical history of the personalities and sagas of his South London youth, and pays tribute to the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives.
My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long, published by Picador.
Rachel Long’s much-anticipated debut collection of poems, My Darling from the Lions, announces the arrival of a thrilling new presence in poetry.
Each poem has a vivid story to tell – of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening – stories that are, by turn, emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous.
Long reveals herself as a razor-sharp and original voice on the issues of sexual politics and cultural inheritance that polarize our current moment. But it’s her refreshing commitment to the power of the individual poem that will leave the reader turning each page in eager anticipation: here is an immediate,wide-awake poetry that entertains royally, without sacrificing a note of its urgency or remarkable skill.
In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado, published by Serpent’s Tail.
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing experience with a charismatic but volatile woman, this is a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse.
Each chapter views the relationship through a different lens, as Machado holds events up to the light and examines them from distinct angles. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction, infusing all with her characteristic wit, playfulness and openness to enquiry. The result is a powerful book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, published by Tramp Press
A true original, this stunning prose debut by Doireann Ní Ghríofa weaves two stories together. In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem that reaches across the centuries to another poet. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy in her own life. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with finding out the rest of the story.
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, published by Peepal Tree Press.
April 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch, at the start of the rainy season. A fisherman sings to himself in his pirogue, waiting for a catch – but attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. Aycayia, a beautiful young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid, has been swimming the Caribbean Sea for centuries. And she is entranced by this man David and his song.
But her fascination is her undoing. She hears his boat’s engine again and follows it, and finds herself at the mercy of American tourists, landed on the island for the annual fishing competition. After a fearsome battle, she is pulled out of the sea and strung up on the dock as a trophy. It is David who rescues her, and gently wins her trust – as slowly, painfully, she starts to transform into a woman again. But transformations are not always permanent, and jealousy, like love, can have the force of a hurricane, and last much longer
The novel’s characters are an unlikely mix: a mermaid, a fisherman, a deaf boy, a Caribbean artist and sweetman and a benevolent white landowner. Miss Arcadia Rain’s own love story is interwoven with Aycayia and David’s and the rivalries and affections in both family and community are brought brilliantly to life. Themes of unconditional love, friendship, family and loss, are examined without sentimentality. Roffey manages to write convincingly about a mermaid, a ‘legend drawn from the sea’, returned to land, to survive, heal and live again, as a real woman in modern times.
As You Were by Elaine Feeney, published by Harvill Secker.
Sinéad Hynes is a tough, driven, funny young property developer with a terrifying secret.
No-one knows it: not her fellow patients in a failing hospital, and certainly not her family. She has confided only in Google and a shiny magpie.
But she can’t go on like this, tirelessly trying to outstrip her past and in mortal fear of her future. Across the ward, Margaret Rose is running her chaotic family from her rose-gold Nokia. In the neighbouring bed, Jane, rarely but piercingly lucid, is searching for a decent bra and for someone to listen. Sinéad needs them both.
The books take us from South London’s estates to 18th-century Ireland and its modern counterpart; with takes on class, sexual awakening and domestic abuse; from mermaid myths to the making of things – each book is described as “pushing at the edges of their forms”.
The seven women and one man shortlisted are in contention for the £30,000 prize which looks for the best fiction, nonfiction and poetry in English from around the world. Six out of the eight titles are by British and Irish writers, with three out of Ireland alone and there is a strong showing of independent publishers and small presses (five out of the eight shortlisted).
This is what 2021 judge Roger Robinson had to say:
“It was such a joy to spend detailed and intimate time with the books nominated for the Rathbones Folio Prize and travel deep into their worlds. The judges chose the eight books on the shortlist because they are pushing at the edges of their forms in interesting ways, without sacrificing narrative or execution. The conversations between the judges may have been as edifying as the books themselves. From a judges’ vantage point, the future of book publishing looks incredibly healthy – and reading a book is still one of the most revolutionary things that one can do.”
I was going to show you a (not very fancy) photo of all of the shortlist but sadly my stack of books got lost in the post so will be gathering dust in some lost property office somewhere. Instead I’ve borrowed an image of the shortlist from the Rathbones Folio Prize site.
Last year, the Mexican novelist and essayist Valeria Luiselli was awarded the Rathbones Folio Prize for her autobiographical work of fiction Lost Children Archive (4th Estate). The 2021 winner will join previous winners Raymond Antrobus (2019), Richard Lloyd Parry (2018), Hisham Matar (2017), Akhil Sharma (2015) and George Saunders (2014).
You can tune in on Wednesday 24 March to find out who will win the prize.
Register here to attend.
About the judges
Roger Robinson, chair won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2019 and RSL Ondaatje Prize in 2020 and is currently on the shortlist for the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry. He has performed all over the world and was chosen by Decibel as one of 50 writers who have influenced the Black-British writing can- on. His latest collection‘A Portable Paradise’ was a ‘New Statesman’ Book of the Year. As well as leading workshops and touring extensively with the British Council he is lead vocalist and lyricist for King Midas Sound and has recorded solo albums.
Sinead Gleeson was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 with Constellations: Reflections from Life which won the Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and the 2020 Dalkey Literary Award. Her short stories have appeared in a number of collections and she is the editor of two collections of short stories, most recently published The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories. She is now working on a novel.
Jon McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection and was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2018. He has been longlisted for the Booker prize three times and his books have won a Betty Trask Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award and the International Dublin Literary Award. He was named 2002 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2002 and in 2010, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nottingham. His new book, Lean Fall Stand, will be published in 2021.
About the Rathbones Folio Prize
The Folio Prize was established in 2013 as the first major English language book prize open to writers from around the world. It is the only prize in which all the books considered for the prize are selected and judged by an academy of peers. When new sponsors, Rathbone Investment Management, came on board the prize was expanded to include all works of literature, regardless of form. Previous winners were George Saunders in 2014, Akhil Sharma in 2015, Hisham Matar in 2017, Richard Lloyd-Parry in 2018, Raymond Antrobus in 2019 and Valeria Luiselli in 2020.