The longlist for the 2019 Portico Prize has been revealed, with six debuts and ten independent publishers making the cut.
The £10,000 prize for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North, once described as ‘the Booker of the North’, is open to literature across the formats of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
The longlist of 17 books, selected by the Portico Prize’s newly formed Society of Readers and Writers, explores the myriad themes of identity, belonging, gender, class and the meaning of place – all connected by the spirit of the North.
Independent publishers are strongly represented on the list: Parthian, Myriad Editions, Nine Arches Press, Faber & Faber, Elliott & Thompson, Lightning Books, Atlantic, Xylem Books, Serpent’s Tale and Saraband.
Of the eight fiction titles on the list, four are debut novels: Saltwater (Sceptre) by Jessica Andrews, a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who moves to London; Ironopolis (Parthian) by Glen James Brown, set on a fictional council estate in post-industrial Middlesbrough; Black Car Burning (Chatto & Windus), a love letter to Helen Mort’s home town of Sheffield; and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile (Fleet) by Adelle Stripe, a novel inspired by the life of Bradford playwright, Andrea Dunbar.
The four further fiction titles on the list are: The Look Away (Xylem Books) by musician and poet Richard Skelton; The Mating Habit of Stags (Lightning Books) by Ray Robinson, a reflective novel set in the moors of North Yorkshire; The One who Wrote Destiny (Atlantic), a novel about a young Kenyan trying to adjust to life in ‘60s North Yorkshire by Nikesh Shukla; and the novella 2020 (Saraband), Kenneth Steven’s examination of life as it might be in 2020.
In non-fiction, Ben Myers, joint-winner of the 2015 Portico Prize, returns with Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place (Elliott and Thompson), an investigation into nature, literature, history, memory and the meaning of place in modern Britain.
In Long Road from Jarrow (Ebury Press), writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie pieces together local and regional history at the time of the Jarrow March with the state of Britain today, and in Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister (Serpent’s Tale), Angela Steidele explores the life of history's first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack.
The longlist includes two memoirs: in Lowborn, Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns (Chatto & Windus), Kerry Hudson revisits the towns she grew up in to try to discover what being poor really means in Britain today; and in The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness (Picador), Graham Caveney describes growing up in Accrington as a member of the ‘Respectable Working Class’. There is also one graphic memoir on the list: Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide (Myriad Editions) by Kate Charlesworth.
Two debut collections of poetry feature on the longlist, from poets both based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire: Zebra (Nine Arches Press), by Ian Humphreys, a collection about exploration, observation and acceptance; and Us (Faber & Faber) in which Zaffar Kunial explores the convolutions of identity. Meanwhile, Michael Symmons Roberts, the award-winning poet who was shortlisted for the Portico Prize in 2015, presents a collection of poetry inspired by Manchester in Mancunia (Jonathan Cape).
Chair of judges Simon Savidge said: “What a fantastic and varied list! A huge thank you to The Society of Readers and Writers for giving myself and the other judges such an intriguing selection of reading ahead. I’m really looking forward to getting lost in all things northern; reading and discussing these books over the coming months and seeing how they each evoke ‘the spirit of the north’. I already have a feeling that making a shortlist is going to be a tough job.”
A shortlist of six books will be selected by a panel of judges, chaired by journalist and broadcaster Savidge of Savidge Reads. He is joined by: Holliday Grainger, stage and screen actor; Kate Fox, stand-up poet; Zahid Hussain, author of The Curry Mile and Jean Sprackland, professor of creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 26th November. Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of The Portico Library in 2020. The winner will be announced at a ceremony at The Portico Library in Manchester on Thursday 23rd January 2020.