• The Publishing Post

The Polari Prize For LGBTQ+ Literature Of 2021

By Caitlin Evans


If you’re a hardcore reader of The Publishing Post, you may well be familiar with the Polari Prize from our article on the 2020 shortlist in issue six. The article delved into the rich and fascinating history behind the prize, its founder and the namesake, highlighting the importance of the prize and how it came to be the UK’s first and largest prize for LGBTQ+ literature. It was important at its founding; it was important when we wrote the article and it’s still important now. LGBTQ+ literature is only continuing to grow in number and profundity and prizes like the Polari are steadfastly hailing these diverse and powerful literary voices.


The 2021 Polari Prize is split into two longlists: the Book Prize and the First Book Prize. Both longlists were appropriately announced during Pride Month, on 24 June by founder Paul Burston during an online celebratory event. During the event, Burston said about this year’s longlist: “Between them, these two longlists showcase the very best in LGBTQ+ writing talent in the UK today. This Pride Month, these are books which tell our truths and are truly worth celebrating.”


The Book Prize longlist features a variety of books from an equally varied list of publishers. We have big names such as Faber and Picador, as well as independent publishing houses such as Head of Zeus and Lightning Books. The eclectic novels on the list range from poetry collections such as Rosie Garland’s What Girls Do in the Dark, to short story collections in The Ministry of Guidance by Golnoosh Nour, and from spiritual non-fiction with Kae Tempest’s On Connection, to popular fiction such titles such as Love & Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward.


The Polari Book Prize 2021 Longlist:


Dragman, Steven Appleby (Vintage)

The Air Year, Caroline Bird (Carcanet)

The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue (Picador)

The Liars’ Dictionary, Eley Williams (Windmill)

The Ministry of Guidance, Golnoosh Nour (Muswell Press)

On Connection, Kae Tempest (Faber)

What Girls Do in the Dark, Rosie Garland (Nine Arches Press)

Hark, John R Gordon (Team Angelica)

No Modernism Without Lesbians, Diana Souhami (Head of Zeus)

Beneath the Streets, Adam Macqueen (Lightning Books)

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle, Neil Blackmore (Windmill)

Love & Other Thought Experiments, Sophie Ward (Corsair)


Polari First Book Prize 2021 Longlist:


Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Florence Given (Cassell)

A Dutiful Boy, Mohsin Zaidi (Square Peg)

Charred, Andreena Leeanne (Team Angelica)

Strange Fruit, Jason Ford (Self-published Instagram novella)

Rainbow Milk, Paul Mendez (Dialogue Books)

Swimming In The Dark, Tomasz Jędrowski (Bloomsbury)

Forced Out, Kevin Maxwell (Granta)

In Their Shoes: Navigating Non-Binary Life, Jamie Windust (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Eat, Gay, Love, Calum McSwiggan (Hodder)

Manatomy, James McDermott (Burning Eye Books)

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart (Picador)

One of Them, Michael Cashman (Bloomsbury)


The First Book Prize longlist is an equally exciting and adventurous line up. The list features crowd favourites of the year such as Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and the incredible Rainbow Milk which took readers by storm. However, as the theme of inclusivity holds strong throughout the Polari Prize, we also see the inclusion of unique publishing formats appearing on the list. As writers move with the times towards the digital realm, so too do their publishing methods, as seen in the self-published Instagram novella Strange Fruit by Jason Ford. The list also features works from current social media influencers, such as Eat, Gay, Love by Calum McSwiggan, an LGBTQ+ lifestyle Youtuber with nearly 100k subscribers.


On the judging panel for this year’s prize is previous Polari Prize winner Angela Chadwick, who won in 2019 for her dystopian thriller XX. When commenting on the 2021 longlist, Chadwick accurately described the list as “an eclectic mix of exciting new voices that deserve a wide audience. While the books are very different from each other, they all share a raw emotional power that makes for the very best reading experience.”


The Polari First Book Prize winner will receive a prize fund of £1,000 in recognition of their work and its contribution to LGBTQ+ exploration in literature. The prize money is funded by a sponsorship from arts communications consultancy, FMcM Associates, who are dedicated to the cause. For the Polari Book Prize longlist, the sponsorship is from DHH Literary Agency, and the prize fund for this longlist’s overall winner will be a cheque for £2,000. However, the judges still have a long way to go before reaching a decision on the winners. First, they must whittle down these stellar longlists into the next stage. The prize shortlists will be announced shortly (pun intended) on 28 July. Place your own bets, or stay tuned for a following issue to explore the turn out of the Polari Prize 2021 shortlists.


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