Polari Prize 2022
By Emma Baigey, Brodie McKenzie and Grace Briggs-Jones
In October, the Polari Prize 2022 shortlist was announced, showcasing a diverse range of books exploring the LGBTQIA+ experience.
Founded in 2011, the Polari Prize is the first and largest book award specifically recognising LGBTQIA+ literature from the UK and Ireland. The prize has massively grown over its 11 year lifetime – as LGBTQIA+ writing has – and is now split into three awards: debut, non-debut and children’s/young adult books. Platforming the voices of the marginalised is another key objective of Polari, which is achieved through the touring literary event Polari Salon.
This year, the prize continues on its upward trajectory with a record number of works being submitted across a multitude of genres, including memoir, fiction and poetry. Chair of judges Paul Burston said: “This year’s shortlists are our strongest yet, a reflection on the enormous rise in submissions and the quality and diversity of books entered this year. There are many genres represented – poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction. Each book speaks to the ethos of the prize, exploring aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience past or present.”
Sunday Times best-seller Miriam Margolyes is amongst this year’s Polari First Book Prize shortlisted authors for her memoir This Much is True (John Murray). The list also includes works of non-fiction, such as Adam Zmith’s Deep Sniff (Repeater Books) exploring the history of poppers and how they have influenced queer life.
The Polari Prize shortlist for non-debuts includes enchanting poetry, such as C+nto and Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor (Saqi Books / The Westbourne Press), as well as page-turning fiction like Beth Lewis’s The Origins of Iris (Hodder and Stoughton). This category will announce an overall book of the year.
A real stand-out of the non-debut shortlist is Golnoosh Noor’s decadent poetry collection, Rocksong, published by Birmingham-based indie outfit Verve Poetry Press. Poet Fran Lock has coined the work “a shamelessly baroque ride through the nadirs and summits of the contemporary queer –” and we are inclined to agree. Rocksong is artful and perverse in composition and content, and Noor is daring and unapologetic in her exhibition of queer resistance.
Also among the shortlist is the already widely celebrated Address Book by Neil Bartlett (Inkandescent), which The Guardian’s own Jackie Kay has selected as one of the Best Books of 2021. Address Book is a tender look at place and person, giving readers a curiosity-invoking peek into the lives of seven people over the course of several decades. About his writing process, Bartlett says “Every place I’ve ever slept in, I’ve always wondered about what went on at that address before I moved in. To write this book, I went back to some significant places in my own life and let the walls talk to me.” And talk to him they did. This text is an enchanting instance of exemplary storytelling; a tangible example of the age-old phrase: “if these walls could talk…”
The definitive biography of Valentine Auckland: A Transgressive Life by Frances Bingham (Handheld Press) has also been shortlisted, detailing the life of a remarkable cross-dressing poet and activist. The book chronicles the ups and downs of Auckland’s passionate relationship with Sylvia Townsend Warner as well as her deep involvement in Communism. This book has managed to recover an important part of lesbian history charting an extraordinary life as well as queerness and gender identity during Auckland’s life in Britain.
A woman, escaping from an abusive relationship, trapped by a storm, coming face-to-face with an alternate version of herself. That is the premise of The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis (Hodder and Stoughton) another of the nominees on the shortlist. It has been heralded as a cross between Sliding Doors and Wild leading to an important and searing novel about a woman escaping abuse and confronting past secrets. Novelist Sarah Hillary called the book “evocative and unexpected, tender and fierce.” This book is an excellent reminder of why Beth Lewis is a bestselling author.
“Joelle Taylor has produced one of the most astonishing and original poetry collections of recent years,” according to the British author Bernardine Evaristo. Taylor’s collection of poetry, C+nto and Othered Poems (The Westbourne Press), explores sexuality and protest through the lens of the butch counterculture of the 1990s. Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize 2021, the lyrical and intimate cantos bring an era and its marginalised people to explosive prominence creating a love poem, a riot, a late night and an honouring.
Speaking of the shortlist, Judge Chris Gribble said: “This year’s Polari Prize entries showed yet again what a vibrant, diverse and exciting range of voices we have in the LGBTQ+ community. As well as more entries than ever before, the quality has been deeply impressive… poetry and creative non-fiction are all represented on this year’s shortlist in a set of books that blends the urgency of contemporary LGBTQ+ experience with a critical and revelatory view of our own shared pasts. We can’t wait to gather to find the overall winner.”
The 2022 winner, C+nto and Othered Poems, was announced on 15 November in the award’s new home, the British Library.