Rathbones Folio Prize 2023 Shortlists Announced
By Georgia Appleyard, Olivia Ek and Conor Hodges
The Rathbones Folio Prize has announced its three shortlists for 2023 in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Established in 2013, the Rathbones Folio Prize is the first major English language book prize open to writers from around the world. All the books considered for the prize are selected and judged by an academy of writing peers. The 2023 jury is chaired by novelist Ali Smith, who is joined by poet, novelist and writer of short stories Jackie Kay and novelist Guy Gunaratne.
This year's introduction of three categories addresses the changing landscape of literary prizes and offers readers and retailers a clearer and broader range of recommendations that speak to the global talent of the literary world. With five titles in each category, the chosen fifteen works highlight the prize's "unique multi-genre reach across the global literary landscape.”
Executive Director Minna Fry and Co-founder and Chair of the Prize Andrew Kidd noted that, thanks to the revised structure, the “three brilliant judges have been able to shine a light on more titles than ever before,” and that they are “thrilled by the breadth, inventiveness, urgency and energy of the fifteen books they’ve selected.”
The judges have chosen:
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory is the tale of an uprising and a country’s implosion. Inspired by Orwell’s Animal Farm, this satirical novel is narrated by a vivid chorus of animal voices that unveil the tyrannical and ruthless nature of an absolute power.
Pure Colour by Sheila Heti (Harvill Secker)
Pure Colour is the story of Mira’s relationship with her beloved father, whose death sends her spiralling into the strange and dizzying dimension of true loss. But it is also the story of Mira’s love for Annie, whose tremendous power has opened Mira’s chest like a portal. Sheila Heti’s Pure Colour is an absurdly funny guide to the great things about being alive.
Emergency by Daisy Hildyard (Fitzcarraldo)
Emergency explores the dissolving boundaries between all life on Earth as its protagonist recounts the local phenomena of her childhood, interconnecting and spreading across the world. Pesticides circulate, money flows across continents and bodies feel the force of distant powers. An evocative and unsettling story of remote violence, Emergency reinvents the pastoral novel for the climate change era.
Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
In this mesmerising novel, three scary monsters – racism, misogyny and ageism – roam through the lives of the characters. The novel’s reversible format confuses the timeline, acting out on the page the disorientation experienced by migrants when the story of their lives is changed by changing countries.
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (Viking)
When Lucy swaps New York for the coastal house her ex-husband has rented in Maine, she expects to be back in a few weeks. But as weeks turn to months, it’s just Lucy, William and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the sea. The deep human connections that sustain us are at the heart of this poignant novel, which evokes the fragility and uncertainty of our recent past.
The Passengers by Will Ashon (Faber)
The Passengers is a collection of vignettes collated while hitchhiking that depicts the lives of individuals who are in some way connected to the British Isles. These evocative and deeply personal accounts reflect the diversity of experiences of modern Britain as Ashon expertly weaves a tapestry of dreams, emotions, beauty, and the quotidian moments that add up to lives.
In Love by Amy Bloom (Granta)
Amy Bloom’s In Love is an agonising memoir that recounts her husband’s decision to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life after battling Alzheimer’s. That the narrative never loses its humour is a testament to Bloom’s writing, and the love and life she injects into this memoir make it an unforgettable read.
The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland (John Murray Press)
In The Escape Artist, British journalist Jonathan Freedland recounts the incredible story of Rudolf Vrba’s unprecedented escape back to Slovakia from the horrors of Auschwitz. Freedland’s book is narrative history at its finest, infusing Vrba’s story with the fate-defying heroism it deserves.
Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson (Granta)
Constructing a Nervous System by Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson stokes the embers from her 2015 memoir Negroland as the author deconstructs herself into fragments: a literary critic of fifty years; a member of the "Black Bourgeoisie"; a pioneering feminist. Underpinning these fragments is Jefferson: hard to pin down, but here on these pages in her entirety.
The Social Distance Between Us by Darren McGarvey (Ebury Press)
In The Social Distance Between Us, Darren McGarvey delivers an impassioned critique of contemporary British politics, laying bare the government’s failure to address issues like homelessness, poverty and unemployment. In the book, Britain is bisected by a ravine which partitions the powerful from the powerless, the vocal from the voiceless. The Social Distance Between Us exposes the stark disconnect between politicians and the British people.
Quiet by Victoria Adukwei Bulley (Faber)
In her debut poetry collection, Victoria Adukwei Bulley traces the boundary between the human urge to bury one’s "inner life" and the looming truth that, as Audre Lorde writes, “your silence will not protect you.” A triumphant exploration of selfhood, intimacy and Black interiority, Quiet demonstrates acute attention to both the dexterity and the limits of language.
Ephemeron by Fiona Benson (Jonathan Cape)
At times bloody and brutal, Ephemeron exposes humanity at its most vulnerable and tender in frank and unshrinking ways. From tales of boarding school life as a young girl to a retelling of the classical myth of the Minotaur, Benson explores the unwavering reality that “if you are female or small, you must run.”
Cane, Corn & Gulley by Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa (Out-Spoken Press)
Cane, Corn & Gully is a unique study of movement by poet and interdisciplinary artist Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa. A celebration of her Barbadian ancestral heritage, Kinshasa’s collection reclaims the narratives of the enslaved via reconstructed dance scores which are masterfully interwoven with the poetry, serving to vindicate the rebellious acts of black women past, present and future.
England’s Green by Zaffar Kunial (Faber)
Zaffar Kunial’s poetry holds up a magnifying glass to the smallest moments of everyday life, disassembling and reassembling them in an entirely different light. In England’s Green, the poet’s mastery of language breathes new life into a sound, a colour, or the name of a flower, and invites us to rethink the place and language we think we know.
Manorism by Yomi Sode (Penguin Poetry)
Manorism is award-winning Nigerian British writer Yomi Sode’s examination of the lives of Black British men and boys. Tackling issues of generational trauma and the complexities of belonging, at the book’s heart is the perpetual burden of code-switching: changing one’s language and behaviour to suit radically different cultural contexts.
The winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize will be announced in a ceremony at the British Library on Monday 27 March. The shortlisted authors will take part in events across the country, including an evening of shortlist sessions at the British Library on 26 March.
Each category winner, selected from a shortlist of five, will receive a £2,000 prize and, as a Rathbones Folio Prize Finalist, will be entered into the competition to be chosen as the overall Rathbones Folio Prize winner, receiving an additional £30,000.
For now, you can join the conversation at rathbonesfolioprize.com and @RathbonesFolio on Twitter.