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The Barbellion Prize 2021 Shortlist

By Caitlin Evans and Thomas Caldow


Named in honour of W. N. P. Barbellion, an English diarist who wrote pioneering work on his experience with multiple sclerosis, the Barbellion Prize continues his footsteps of furthering disabled voices in writing. The annual price is awarded to works of any genre, from any language and via any publishing method; the only criteria is that the work represents the experience of chronic illness or disability. The prize comes not only with pride and prestige, but previous winners have also received £1,000, a custom-made crystal glass Barbellion Prize trophy and certificate, as well as a copy of W. N. P. Barbellion’s The Journal of a Disappointed Man.


Dr. Shahd Alshammari, a member of last year’s judging committee, commented that “The Barbellion Prize seeks to amplify voices that are seldom heard, and if they are, they’re not heard enough.” Indeed, it is hoped that, through the yearly prize, readers and publishers alike will discover more disabled writers’ works that truly deserve recognition. This year’s Barbellion Prize winner is due to be announced in February; in the meantime, you can familiarise yourselves with the excellent shortlisted titles below.


Ultimatum Orangutan by Khairani Barokka

Nine Arches Press


Khairani Barokka is a Jakarta-born, London-based artist and poet as well as Co-editor at Nine Arches Press. She was also a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change, serving as a testament to her passion and explanation of the content in Ultimatum Orangutan. Ultimatum Orangutan is her second poetry collection, and draws large themes of colonialism and environmental injustice inwards to become intricately intimate. Barokka explores the idea of the disabled body as its own ecosystem and interrogates the reader’s own position in relation to fellow humans, landscapes and animals.


“Through this insistent intimacy, a rapport with both the dead and the living, she challenges each of us to carry the charge of our own lives with decency, care and responsibility. These are daring poems that require us to urgently listen.”

– Sandeep Parmar


What Willow Says by Lynn Buckle

Époque Press


What Willow Says is a poignant novel which explores the importance of family and the acceptance of change. The story follows a deaf child and her grandmother as they learn to communicate in multiple ways: through the beauty of sign language, through stories of myths and legends, through a shared love of trees and through the love they have for each other. Its author, Lynn Buckle, is a UNESCO City of Literature Writer in Residence as well as the founder of the Irish Writers Centre Climate Writing Group in Ireland.


“This quiet story is as exquisitely sculpted as bog oak, and will – like the storms it tells of – leave traces deep inside of you. A moving, delicate book for this moment.”


– Kerri ní Dochartaigh


A Still Life: A Memoir by Josie George

Bloomsbury


Josie George’s memoir explores and reflects on a life lived with a mystery illness. Since the age of eight, George has struggled with chronic exhaustion which has shaped the course of her life and the relationships with those around her. Returning to the journals she has written throughout the years, George honestly presents the challenges of a life lived largely indoors, yet also showcases her keen observations of the world sharpened by her position on the outside looking in. Alongside these passages, George showcases a genuine love for life, as she herself notes: “[I am] embarrassed at how much I am enjoying my life, especially when the world insists on telling me that I really shouldn’t.”


A Still Life is a beautifully written memoir documenting a complete and complex life lived with, not in spite of, chronic illness.


Duck Feet by Ely Percy

Monstrous Regiment


The last time we covered Ely Percy’s Duck Feet in The Publishing Post it had just been shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year Awards. Since then, it has gone on to win the award as well as featuring on numerous end-of-year lists, with Percy also receiving several grants to help the writing of their follow-up novel. This success is not at all unwarranted for a novel as touching, funny and experimental as Percy’s. Following the life of Kirsty, as she navigates adolescence at a Glasgow high school, Duck Feet finds joy and tragedy inherent in this time of life through a series of beautifully realised short stories.


Duck Feet is a rare thing in contemporary literature; a novel with heart and humour which is also a feat of language and style.”


– The Saltire Society Scottish Book Awards


Through this shortlist, The Barbellion Prize is shining a light on a bold collection of work from four incredibly talented authors. The winner will be announced in February.


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