Rathbones Folio prize: Zadie Smith makes female-dominated shortlist

Eight books in contention for £30,000 award that has never been won by a woman include Zadie Smith’s story collection Grand Union and poet Fiona Benson’s Vertigo & Ghost

Zadie Smith and Forward prize winner Fiona Benson are among six female authors shortlisted for this year’s Rathbones Folio prize, which has not yet been won by a woman.

Set up in the wake of controversy around the 2011 Booker prize, which saw chair of judges Stella Rimington praising “readability” and books that “zip along”, to the dismay of parts of the literary establishment, the £30,000 prize rewards “the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form”. It has been won in the past by books including Raymond Antrobus’s poetry collection The Perseverance and Richard Lloyd Parry’s look at the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 disaster Ghosts of the Tsunami.

This year Smith’s first short-story collection Grand Union, which moves from dystopia to social satire, is up against three other works of fiction: Valeria Luiselli’s Booker prize-longlisted novel Lost Children Archive, which contrasts a family road trip from New York with the journey of Mexican children attempting to cross the border into the US; James Lasdun’s Victory, made up of two novellas, one exploring a man considering possible infidelity, the other a sexual assault accusation; and Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School, in which Lerner’s alter ego Adam Gordon finishes high school.

Fiona Benson’s Vertigo & Ghost, a series of poems about Zeus as a serial rapist, also makes the shortlist alongside Sinéad Gleeson’s essay collection Constellations, whose subjects move from pregnancy to old age and death. The Observer art critic Laura Cumming’s investigation into the mystery of her mother’s disappearance as a child, On Chapel Sands, is also nominated, as is Azadeh Moaveni’s report into the women who joined Islamic State, Guest House for Young Widows.

Chair of judges Paul Farley said all eight books “speak to their moment and take soundings from fellow writers, past and present. They record, investigate and explore. They navigate their way through various storms, they allow for doubts and uncertainties. Common themes might echo through their collective pages, but in the end each book is irreducibly its own craft and vessel.”

The winner will be announced on 23 March in a ceremony at the British Library.

2020 Folio prize shortlist

Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner

Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson

Victory by James Lasdun

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming

Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Grand Union by Zadie Smith


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Monique Roffey leads strong showing for indies on Rathbones Folio shortlist
The Costa winner is up for award honouring the best work of literature regardless of genre, alongside many other titles from small presses

Alison Flood

10, Feb, 2021 @7:20 PM

Article image
Anna Burns and Sally Rooney on Rathbones Folio prize longlist
Booker winner Milkman and Normal People, which took the Costa novel award, among 20 contenders for the £30,000 prize

Richard Lea

18, Mar, 2019 @4:18 PM

Article image
Raymond Antrobus becomes first poet to win Rathbones Folio prize
The Perseverance, using the writer’s experience of deafness to explore human communication, was praised by judges as ‘exceptionally brave and kind’

Alison Flood

20, May, 2019 @6:35 PM

Article image
Rathbones Folio prize ‘refreshing format’ to expand to three categories
Winners for fiction, nonfiction and poetry will each receive £2,000 and then compete for the overall £30,000 award

Sarah Shaffi

26, Jul, 2022 @2:33 PM

Article image
Awards for women, writers of colour, small presses – why are there so many books prizes?
There are so many literary prizes these days that they could be regarded as an industry in their own right – but they’re needed to change the status quo

Claire Armitstead

21, Feb, 2018 @12:29 PM

Article image
Damon Galgut and Colm Tóibín join ‘rich and large’ Rathbones Folio prize shortlist
Galgut’s Booker winner and Tóibín’s fictionalised biography of Thomas Mann are two of eight titles selected by the judges

Alison Flood

09, Feb, 2022 @7:30 PM

Article image
Rathbones Folio prize paid £30,000 to scammers posing as the winner
‘Sophisticated cyber-criminals’ took Valeria Luiselli’s winnings, though a similar fraud attempt on the Baillie Gifford prize was foiled

Sian Cain

15, Apr, 2021 @11:10 AM

Article image
Irish novelist Colm Tóibín wins Rathbones Folio prize for The Magician
Fictionalised biography of writer Thomas Mann beats Booker prize-winner Damon Galgut to £30,000 award

Lucy Knight

22, Mar, 2022 @7:30 PM

Article image
NoViolet Bulawayo and Margo Jefferson join ‘exciting’ Rathbones Folio prize shortlist
The newly formatted prize will, for the first time, name winners in fiction, nonfiction and poetry and the shortlist includes writers from across the world

Sarah Shaffi

31, Jan, 2023 @7:45 PM

Article image
Margo Jefferson wins 2023 Rathbones Folio prize
The writer and critic’s memoir, Constructing a Nervous System, was described as ‘astounding and rhapsodic’ by judges

Sarah Shaffi

27, Mar, 2023 @6:45 PM