Titles published by Tramp Press, Jacaranda Books, Peninsula Press, Peepal Tree and Charco Press have been shortlisted for this year's Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses.
The shortlist comprises A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press), a hybrid work of essay-fiction, debut novel LOTE by Shola von Reinhold (Jacaranda Books), Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman (Peninsula Press), described as a series of "essayistic episodes", Costa Prize winner The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press) and A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti, translated by Fionn Petch (Charco Press), a blend of memoir and history writing.
Each shortlisted book receives £2,000, split between the publisher and the author, with the winning press awarded £2,500 and the author receiving an extra £1,000. The money is raised from a grant from The Granta Trust, sponsorship from the UEA Publishing Project, and money raised by the Republic of Consciousness Book of the Month programme.
The shortlist was announced in partnership with Bookshop.org. Kiri Inglis, marketing and editorial manager at Bookshop.org, said: “We are honoured to be working with The Republic of Consciousness Prize this year. Independent publishing and independent bookshops go hand in hand, so we’re thrilled to be championing this incisive shortlist and these vital independent voices.”
The 2021 judging panel consists of authors Guy Gunaratne and Eley Williams, who won the prize in 2018, and publisher John Mitchinson. The three judges have read over 80 submissions in total. The judging process is being studied and supported by students from the MA publishing module at the University of East Anglia, who are reading the shortlist and sharing their thoughts on the book with our judging panel.
Commenting on the shortlist, Unbound publisher John Mitchinson said: "Anyone who has judged a literary prize will recognise the strange mental state it induces. Reading so many works of fiction over such a concentrated period of time, leads to a certain porousness in the borders of one’s own republic of consciousness, as plots and character leak into one another, and even dreams take on the flavour of other people’s stories. Eventually though, some books exert a stronger gravitational pull. They refuse to leave and demand re-reading. These are the ones that ended up on our longlist – 10 books which we three judges felt best reflected the astonishing range and rich quality of contemporary independent publishing.
"Now those 10 books have been reduced to five. That process has a brutality to it—very good books are, by definition, left off the shortlist—but it was mitigated by the firm and careful stewardship of Neil Griffiths and James Tookey. And the final five books make a list we are all proud to promote. At least two of them have already been recognised by other prizes – hardly a surprise to us – and by the time we’ve finished, we hope all five will be bought, read and discussed with equal enthusiasm. Taken together, they offer a wonderful and diverse snapshot of contemporary fiction – bold experiment is matched by great literary finesse and thematic ambition.
"Sadly, this year we won’t be able to stand in a room together to extol their virtues. This is a painful loss but, if I’m honest, I’d trade any number of evenings eating twiglets and drinking lukewarm white wine for the pleasure of a Zoom call discussing books with writers who read with the passion and discrimination of my fellow judges, Eley Williams and Guy Gunaratne."
Gunaratne said: "The sense of hybridity is the most intriguing dimension for me. Each book, in various indefinite and unusual ways, seeks to dissolve staid and settled formulas. This has not only been a welcome discovery for me during the process, but it points toward arresting possibilities, I think, for fiction written under collapsing certainties and faltering binds."
The 2021 winner will be announced in May 2021.
The prize was founded in 2017 by the novelist Neil Griffiths and rewards outstanding literary fiction published by small presses based in the UK and Ireland with no more than five full-time employees. It is open to both novels and single-author short story collections in English, either originally or in translation, as long as it is the first time it has been published in the UK and Ireland.
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