The Gordon Burn Prize 2021 Shortlist
By Ameenah Khan, Emma Carey, Caitlin Evans
When Gordon Burn, author of an eclectic variety of novels and writing, passed away in 2009, a lasting impression was left on modern British literature. His consistent attempts to expand his genre repertoire were noted by critics and fans alike, with titles such as Somebody’s Husband Somebody’s Son, Fullalove, and Alma Cogan, etched into the minds of many.
In 2012, the Gordon Burn Trust launched a new literary prize named and awarded in honour of the late Gordon Burn. The prize aims to reward literature that follows in Burn’s impressive footsteps of breaking the boundaries of style and genre with drive and ambition to subvert reader expectations with masterful technique. As such, the prize is open to nominations of both fiction and non-fiction works spanning a wide range of subjects and cultural themes.
As a demonstration of his influence in the literary community, the Gordon Burn Prize runs as a partnership between numerous literary organisations such as the GB Trust, New Writing North, Faber & Faber, and Durham Book Festival (during which the winner is typically announced). The winner of the prize receives £5,000 and the opportunity to use Gordon Burn’s remote cottage as a three-month writing retreat.
Here is a look at the shortlisted authors who are in with the chance of winning this prize for 2021.
Sea State – Tabitha Lasley (4th Estate)
Sea State is former journalist Tabitha Lasley's first published book. After calling it quits as a magazine journalist, the memoir follows Lasley's journey after moving from London to Aberdeen to research a book in the oil rig industry and experience life off-shore first-hand. The memoir explores a life far from the comforts of home, and the surrounding temptation and desires therein. Lasley receives praise for her “fluidly written, dramatic and insightful” first book – one to add to the wishlist.
A Ghost in the Throat – Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s (Tramp Press)
A Ghost in the Throat is a creative portrayal of the power of historical poetry. This piece of autofiction follows two stories simultaneously. In the 1700s, upon discovering her husband's death, a woman composes a poem soon to be famous for centuries to come. In the present day, a young mother discovers the work of art, developing an obsession with its prose. This is the story of two women alive in different eras yet bound to each other by a piece of extraordinary poetry.
Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden (Canongate Press)
Mrs Death Misses Death is activist Salena Godden’s debut novel and tells the story of two people whose lives are about to change. The unique story covers the past life of Mrs Death as her new acquaintance, Wolf, emerges himself into this new and unexpected journey. Essentially, Godden brings poetry, pose, life and death together in one story. Taking its readers through a rollercoaster of emotions, this novel is not like any that you’ve read before. If you’re eager to experience the whirlwind of Mrs Deaths’ life, then grab your copy of the book now.
A Little Devil in America – Hanif Abdurraqib (Allen Lane)
Abdurraqib’s collection of essays speaks to the performance and engagement of Black musicians and cultural figures of recent modern history. Raised in Ohio, the lyrical essayist and poet finds a way to analyse American society and politics through the lens and lives of Black figures, including his own personal history. His examples span a range of themes, time-periods and mediations, including switching from deep statements on love and loss to Beyonce’s half-time Super Bowl set.
Luckenbooth – Jenni Fagan (Windmill Books)
Luckenbooth is Fagan’s third novel in her award-winning repertoire of prose and poetry. The historical novel is set across nine decades, detailing the events that unfold within the walls of 10 Luckenbooth Close, as the outside world evolves and twists beyond it. Beginning in the early 20th century, when a dark curse is placed upon the building by the devil’s daughter, the rest of the novel is equally harrowing and disturbing. The book has been said to paint the city of Edinburgh at its darkest.
Come Join Our Disease – Sam Byers (Faber & Faber)
As a previous nominee for the Costa First Novel Prize, Byers promised great things from his literature, and Come Join Our Disease delivers. This novel interweaves moments of comedy with a dark and serious backdrop of radicalism and resistance. The novel follows a homeless woman who gets a new start in a tech company, with the catch that she must post about her new start productivity online. Through the tasks of this new job, she develops an astute hatred for wellness and productivity movements and leads a group of outcasts in resistance.