A personal dictionary of the Japanese language and a speculative history of Goddess cultures are some of the works battling it out for the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize.
Literary translator Polly Barton is nominated alongside curator Amy Budd, academic Michael Docherty, artist Maria Howard and Bryony White, an international research fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, whittled down from 59 entries.
It is the fourth reiteration of the £3,000 prize from the independent publisher, recognising the best proposal for a book-length essay for any writer in the UK and Ireland who has not already secured a publishing deal. The winner also wins a three-month residency at at the Mahler & LeWitt Studios in Spoleto, Italy, this summer to work on their book.
Barton is shortlisted for Fifty Sounds, described by Fitzcarraldo as "a personal dictionary of the Japanese language” following her travels to Japan aged 21 to teach English on the remote island of Sado. Budd’s speculative history of Goddess cultures in the manner of Overlay by Lucy Lippard has also been recognised, in an essay titled On Lunar Thinking.
Meanwhile There is California Champagne: Dignity and Work at the End of the World by Docherty offers “an exploration of how Anglo-American pop culture of the 20th and 21st centuries has influenced social attitudes to ‘the dignity of work’,” Fitzarraldo said. Howard’s Tender as Memory is a meditation on the collective and individual memory through the lens of women, neuroscience, landscape, archive and memoir, written at the intersection of the arts and sciences. Finally, White’s Common Periwinkle completes the shortlist, with her consideration of queerness through queer performance and contemporary art.
The winner will be announced by 24th April. The judges are Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Paul Keegan and Jacques Testard, publisher of Fitzcarraldo. The judges are looking for proposals for essays that explore and expand the possibilities of the essay form, with no restrictions on theme or subject matter.
In 2016, Matthew McNaught was awarded the inaugural prize for Immanuel, an essay about faith, doubt and radical religion, and his book will be published by Fitzcarraldo in August. Last year’s prize went to Irish-Canadian writer Joanna Pocock for her work exploring communities and their relationships with the changing landscapes of Montana. The Bookseller understands that 2018 nominee Jeremy Atherton Lin has also just signed a publishing deal.