Shortlist for the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize announced

Boundary-defying works: British and Irish writers lead shortlist alongside fresh US voices.

11 February 2021

From South London’s estates to 18th-century Ireland and its modern counterpart, eight deeply personal works of literature have been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2021.

The judges have chosen books by seven women and one man to be in contention for this year’s prize which looks for the best fiction, non-fiction and poetry in English from around the world. Six out of the eight titles are by British and Irish writers, with three out of Ireland alone. The spirit of experimentation is also reflected in the strong showing of independent publishers.

2021 judge Roger Robinson says: It was such a joy to spend detailed and intimate time with the books nominated for the Rathbones Folio Prize and travel deep into their worlds. The judges chose the eight books on the shortlist because they are pushing at the edges of their forms in interesting ways, without sacrificing narrative or execution. The conversations between the judges may have been as edifying as the books themselves. From a judges’ vantage point, the future of book publishing looks incredibly healthy – and reading a book is still one of the most revolutionary things that one can do.”

The Rathbones Folio Prize – known as the ‘writers’ prize’ — rewards the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form. It is the only award governed by an international academy of distinguished writers and critics, ensuring a unique quality and consistency in the nomination and judging process.

The 2021 shortlist ranges from Amina Cain’s Indelicacy – a feminist fable about class and desire – and the exploration of the estates of South London through poetry and photography in Caleb Femi’s Poor, to a formally innovative, genre-bending memoir about domestic abuse in Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House, and a feminist revision of Caribbean mermaid myths, in Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch.

In the darkly comic novel As You Were, poet Elaine Feeney tackles the intimate histories, institutional failures, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland, while Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost In The Throat finds the eighteenth-century poet Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill haunting the life of a contemporary young mother, prompting her to turn detective. Sara Baume’s handiwork – which charts the author’s daily process of making and writing, and explores what it is to create and to live as an artist – while poet Rachel Long ’s acclaimed debut collection My Darling From The Lions skewers sexual politics, religious awakenings and family quirks with wit, warmth and precision.

Last year, the Mexican novelist and essayist Valeria Luiselli was awarded the Rathbones Folio Prize for her fiercely imaginative autobiographical work of fiction Lost Children Archive. The 2021 winner of £30,000 will be announced on the 24 March and will join previous winners Raymond Antrobus (2019), Richard Lloyd Parry (2018), Hisham Matar (2017), Akhil Sharma (2015) and George Saunders (2014).

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handiwork by Sara Baume

handiwork is a contemplative short narrative from acclaimed writer and visual artist Sara Baume. It offers observations at once gentle and devastating, on the nature of art, grief and a life lived well. Sara Baume’s work first appeared in newspapers and journals such as The Irish TimesThe GuardianThe Stinging Fly and Granta. She won the 2014 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award for ‘SoleSearcher1’ and went on to receive the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, the Rooney Prize for Literature and an Irish Book Award for Best Newcomer in 2015. Her debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Warwick Prize for Writing, the Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction and the International Dublin Literary Award. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.

 Indelicacy by Amina Cain

A ghostly feminist fable about class, desire, friendship, and the battle to find one’s true calling. Amina Cain’s Indelicacy was an Editor’s Choice at the New York Times and a New York Public Library Best Book of the Year. She is the author of two collections of stories: Creature and I Go To Some Hollow, and her fiction and essays have appeared in publications such as GrantaBOMBn+1, and The Paris Review Daily. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, writer Amarnath Ravva, where she is finishing work on a book about the space of reading and writing fiction, tentatively entitled A Horse at Night.

As You Were by Elaine Feeney

One of the most buzzed-about Irish debuts of 2020: a novel for our times. Elaine Feeney has published three collections of poetry, Where’s Katie?, The Radio was GospelRise, and a drama piece, WRoNGHEADED, commissioned by Liz Roche Company. She teaches at The National University of Ireland, Galway and St Jarlath’s College. Her work has been widely published and anthologised in Poetry ReviewThe Stinging FlyThe Irish TimesCopper NickelStonecutter Journal and others. As You Were is her fiction debut.

Poor by Caleb Femi

Lyrical, heart-breaking and hopeful, the Peckham poet ’s debut collection celebrating the lives of young black boys and the architecture that shapes them. Caleb Femi is a poet and director featured in the Dazed 100 list of the next generation shaping youth culture. He has written and directed short films commissioned by the BBC and Channel 4 and poems by the Tate Modern, The Royal Society for Literature, St Paul’s Cathedral, the BBC, the Guardian and many more. Between 2016-2018, Caleb was the Young People’s Laureate for London. He wrote the liner material for Kano’s 2019 album, Hoodies All Summer and was the face of the 2019 Mulberry Christmas advert. Poor is his first book.

My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long

Each poem in Rachel Long ’s critically acclaimed debut collection, My Darling from the Lions, has a vivid story to tell – of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening – stories that are emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous. She is a razor-sharp and original voice and here is an immediate, wide-awake poetry that entertains with urgency and remarkable skill. Rachel Long is a Costa Prize shortlisted poet and founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Womxn of Colour, which is housed at Southbank Centre, in London. Rachel’s poetry and prose have been published widely, most recently in FiligreeMal and The White Review. She is assistant tutor to Jacob Sam-La Rose on the Barbican Young Poets programme, 2015-present, and this year is one of our Rathbones Folio mentors.

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

A revolutionary and bestselling memoir about domestic abuse by Carmen Maria Machado the prize-winning author of Her Body and Other Parties. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize among others. Her essays, fiction, and criticism have appeared in the New YorkerThe New York TimesGrantaVogueThis American LifeHarper’s BazaarTin HouseMcSweeney’s Quarterly ConcernGuernica, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Guggenheim Foundation, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She lives in Philadelphia and is the Abrams Artist-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

A devastating and timeless tale about finding your voice by freeing another’s. Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a poet and essayist. Her most recent book is the bestseller A Ghost in the Throat, which finds the eighteenth-century poet Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill haunting the life of a contemporary young mother, prompting her to turn detective. Doireann is also author of six critically-acclaimed books of poetry, each a deepening exploration of birth, death, desire, and domesticity.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

A tale of love against the odds, a feminist revision of an old Taino myth, an adventure story set in a small coastal Caribbean village. Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian born British writer of novels, essays and a memoir. Her previous novels, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and House of Ashes have been nominated for major awards. Archipelago won the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature in 2013. She is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and a tutor for the National Writers Centre. The Mermaid of Black Conch won both the 2020 Costa Book of the Year Award and the 2020 Costa Novel Award.

2021 Rathbones Folio Prize Judges

Roger Robinson, chair, won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2019 and RSL Ondaatje Prize in 2020 and is currently on the shortlist for the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry. He has performed all over the world and was chosen by Decibel as one of 50 writers who have influenced the Black-British writing can-on. His latest collection A Portable Paradise’ was a ‘New Statesman’ Book of the Year. As well as leading workshops and touring extensively with the British Council he is lead vocalist and lyricist for King Midas Sound and has recorded solo albums.

Sinead Gleeson was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 with Constellations: Reflections from Life which won the Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and the 2020 Dalkey Literary Award. Her short stories have appeared in a number of collections and she is the editor of four anthologies of short stories, most recently published The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories. She is now working on a novel.

Jon McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection. He has been longlisted for the Booker prize three times, was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize in 2019, and his books have won a Betty Trask Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award and the International Dublin Literary Award. He was named 2002 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2002 and in 2010, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nottingham. His new novel, Lean Fall Stand, will be published in 2021.

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