Polari First Book Prize: 12 thrilling debut reads on longlist

Polari First Book Prize: 12 thrilling debut reads on longlist

by Suswati Basu

The literary world is abuzz with excitement as the prestigious Polari First Book Prize reveals its longlist for 2023, showcasing a diverse and captivating array of debut works from talented authors representing the LGBTQ+ community. The Polari Prize, established in 2011, is an annual award that celebrates outstanding first books written by LGBTQ+ writers or exploring LGBTQ+ themes. This year’s longlist comprises twelve remarkable works that promise to leave an indelible mark on the literary landscape.

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“At a time when LGBTQ people are under attack, our stories matter more than ever. These are our stories. Read them. Learn from them. Celebrate them.”

Paul Burston, PolAri Prize founder

Previous winners include Fiona Mozley, Saleem Haddad, Paul McVeigh, Kirsty Logan, Diriye Osman, John McCullough, Mari Hannah, James Maker, Angela Chadwick, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Mohsin Zaidi and Adam Zmith. For the Polari First Book Prize the judges are author Rachel Holmes, poet Sophia Blackwell, author Karen McLeod and 2022 prize winner Adam Zmith. 

Polari First Book Prize longlist

  • Love From The Pink Palace – Jill Nalder. In this compelling memoir, Nalder invites readers into her extraordinary life during the AIDs crisis, offering a candid and heartfelt account of her journey through love, relationships, and self-discovery. Nalder’s voice resonates with warmth and vulnerability, making “Love From The Pink Palace” an emotional rollercoaster of joy, heartache, and triumph.
  • A Visible Man – Edward Enninful. Enninful, a renowned figure in the fashion world, crafts a powerful narrative that delves into identity, and the complexities of being a visible man in the public eye. This insightful autobiography offers a rare glimpse into the life of an influential queer figure, highlighting the challenges and triumphs of his remarkable career.
  • The Whale Tattoo – Jon Ransom. “The Whale Tattoo” is a mesmerising work of fiction that weaves together folklore, family bonds, and queer relationships in a coastal setting. With its lyrical prose and atmospheric storytelling, this novel immerses readers in a world where secrets lie beneath the surface of the ocean and the human heart.
  • Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness – Kevin Brazil. In this thought-provoking essay collection, Kevin Brazil reflects on the complexities of queer happiness and the societal expectations that often shape the LGBTQ+ experience. Thoughtful and illuminating, the book challenges conventional notions of happiness and encourages readers to embrace their authentic selves.
  • Rising of the Black Sheep – Livia Kojo Alour. This is a stunning poetry collection that explores themes of identity, race, and queerness with unapologetic honesty. Her verses are a potent reminder of the power of language in reclaiming narratives and elevating marginalised voices.
  • The New Life – Tom Crewe. Crewe’s debut novel ventures into a dystopian world set in the 1890s where queer individuals must navigate a society plagued by inequality and prejudice. Through its gripping plot and well-drawn characters, this speculative fiction offers a poignant commentary on the resilience of the human spirit.
  • None of the Above – Travis Alabanza. Alabanza’s memoir is a raw and empowering exploration of gender identity and the intersectionality of being black and non-binary. With searing prose and unflinching honesty, Alabanza shares their experiences. They also invite readers to challenge societal norms and embrace their own unique identities. Alabanza was also the recipient of the Jhalak Prize this year.
  • Orpheus Builds a Girl – Heather Parry. Eerily based on a true story, a German doctor obsessed with a Cuban woman he treated for tuberculosis revives her corpse using scientific research and his own dark magic.
  • In Her Jaws – Rosamund Taylor. This is a haunting collection of short stories that delve into the darker corners of the human experience. With themes of desire, obsession, and transformation, these stories leave a lingering impact on the reader’s psyche.
  • Is This Love? – C. E. Riley. In her debut novel, this psychological and emotional unravelling is an impossibly compelling and painful story of a divorce from two different perspectives.
  • No Country for Girls – Emily Styles. Aussie author Styles’ debut novel is set in the harsh Australian outback of Western Australia. It is considered a “Thelma & Louise” story for the modern generation.
  • Some Integrity – Padraig Regan. This poetry collection also explores themes of love, loss, and the intricacies of human connections. Regan’s verses are imbued with vulnerability and emotion, drawing readers into a world where honesty and integrity are paramount.

Who was on the Polari Prize list?

Polari Book Prize list as Polari First Book Prize longlist also announced
Polari Book Prize list

Established in 2019, The Polari Prize similarly awards an overall book of the year, excluding debuts, and previous winners include Andrew McMillan (Playtime), Kate Davies (In At the Deep End), Diana Souhami (No Modernism Without Lesbians) and last year’s winner Joelle Taylor for her electrifying poetry collection exploring the UK’s underground lesbian culture, C+nto and Othered Poems. 

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  • Fire Island by Jack Parlett (Granta Books)
  • A Working Class Family Ages Badly by Juno Roche (Dialogue Books)
  • Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley (Swift Press)
  • All Down Darkness Wide by Seán Hewitt (Jonathan Cape)
  • Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (Picador)
  • Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • The School House by Sophie Ward (Corsair)
  • Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield (Picador)
  • Cells by Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Rookie by Caroline Bird (Carcanet Press)
  • Screen Age by Fenton Bailey (Ebury Press)
  • Here Again Now by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue Books)

What Polari founder had to say:

Polari First Book Prize: 12 thrilling debut reads on longlist
Book stack of Polari First Book Prize longlist recipients

In response to the announcement, prize founder Paul Burston also said: “This year’s Polari Prize long lists demonstrate a diverse range of LGBTQ literary talent, writing across many different genres and from a wide variety of perspectives. The volume and quality of submissions was extremely high this year, and the judges really had their work cut out. But these are long lists we can all be proud of. At a time when LGBTQ people are under attack, our stories matter more than ever. These are our stories. Read them. Learn from them. Celebrate them.”

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Consequently, the Polari First Book Prize longlist for 2023 is an exquisite tapestry of LGBTQ+ voices, offering readers a diverse range of experiences and perspectives. Above all, each work on this list holds the promise of transforming hearts and minds, leaving an enduring impact on readers long after they turn the final page. As the anticipation builds, literary enthusiasts eagerly await the announcement of the shortlist. And ultimately, the revelation of the deserving winner of this celebrated literary accolade. The awards will be announced on September 27th, 2023 in Hastings.

Listen to the conversation with Gender Euphoria author Laura Kate Dale, which features Amrou Al-Kadhi’s book.

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