The £30,000 Rathbones Folio Prize has gone to a poet, Raymond Antrobus, for the first time, with the spoken word performer recognised for his “exceptionally brave, kind” debut collection The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins).
The 33-year-old writer's collection spans history and continents, exploring issues such as his diagnosis with deafness as a child, experiences of being mixed heritage, and thoughts on masculinity, as well as his father’s alcoholism and dementia. The Perseverance was published as a 91-page paperback last October by London-based poetry indie Penned in the Margins..
Antrobus became the first poet to win the prize, which goes to the best work of literature of the year of any form, at a ceremony held at the British Library on Monday evening (20th May). Accepting the prize, Antrobus said: "Thank you…sorry, this is so bizarre. This is a dream! I honestly don’t know what to say. Let’s big up all the poets in the audience. For so long people were like ‘don’t write poetry’; no one buys it, no one reads it, you’ll sell a maximum of 400 copies and then this happens."
Antrobus narrowly beat crowdfunded novel Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile by Alice Jolly, judges revealed, as well triumphing over Anna Burns’ Man Booker Prize-winning Milkman (Faber) and Ordinary People (Chatto and Windus) by Diana Evans. Other titles on the eight-strong shortlist included New Zealander Ashley Young’s book of essays Can You Tolerate This? (Bloomsbury), Edward Stanford Travel Writing winner The Crossway by Guy Stagg (Picador), Carys Davies’ novella West (Granta) and Tommy Orange’s novel about the Native American experience There There (Harvill Secker).
The win comes almost two months after Antrobus scooped the Ted Hughes Award. The collection, which contains a challenge of Ted Hughes’s description of deaf children, was also shortlisted for the Griffin Prize, the Jhalak Prize, and the Somerset Maugham Award.
Antrobus was born in Hackney, east London, to an English mother and a Jamaican father. At school, he was thought to be dyslexic with severe learning disabilities because his deafness was only discovered when he was six. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education, from Goldsmiths in London, and now works nationally and internationally as a poet and teacher. He was London Book Fair’s Poet of the Fair in March and recenlty signed his first picture book deal with Walker Books about a father and son journey where Boy Bear struggles to fit into the hearing world.
The 2019 judges were the writers Kate Clanchy, Chloe Aridjis and Owen Sheers. Clanchy said: “We chose eight books we loved in different genres and deciding between them was painful. In the end it came down to two books and a tense vote.
"Alice Jolly’s Mary Anne Sate, Imbecile, is a feat of voice: the story of a 19th century servant told in short lines which jag down the page like stitches or epitaphs – a startling, original work of remembrance. In the end, though, we agreed on Raymond Antrobus’ The Perseverance, an immensely moving book of poetry which uses his D/ deaf experience, bereavement and Jamaican/British heritage to consider the ways we all communicate with each other."
She added: “It’s an exceptionally brave, kind book: it seemed, in our atomised times, to be the book we most wanted to give to others, the book we all needed to read.”
Launched in 2013, the Rathbones Folio Prize is the only literary prize in which all books, fiction and non-fiction, are judged, strictly on merit, by an Academy of writers. The Folio Prize ran for the first time in 2014 but was suspended for 2016 following the ending of its initial two-year sponsorship from The Folio Society. It later secured sponsorship from Rathbones.
Renewed sponsorship from Rathbone Investment Management recently boosted the prize-money from £20,000 to £30,000 as well as securing the future of the award until 2023.
Last year's winner was Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry (Jonathan Cape).