Census follows a terminally ill father and his son while they carry out census duties and was inspired by the life of Ball’s brother Abram, who had Down’s syndrome and passed away at the age of 24.
Artist Gillian Wearing, who judged the prize alongside journalist Alex Clark, writer Kei Miller and musician Andrew Weatherall, said reading the novel “was like walking through someone's surreal grieving mind as they attempt to make sense of existence. This is a beautiful, moving book and unlike any I have read before.”
The Gordon Burn Prize, run in partnership by the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Faber & Faber and Durham Book Festival, was set up to celebrate the work of those who follow in the footsteps of writer Gordon Brown by daring to investigate the past in a courageous way. Entry is open to any writer of English fiction or non-fiction who is resident in the US or the UK.
Ball lives in Chicago and is the author of 10 books of prose and poetry in the United States, even though Census was the first of his works to be published in the UK.
“It is heartening to learn that this support, the Gordon Burn Prize, has been given to my book, Census, a book that in many ways is not my own. From the first, it was for my brother, a person who no longer exists (he is in the ground),” said Ball. “As his, it is a book pointed at a world that we do not live in, but perhaps could. I would like for people to read the work because I think we can see differently than we do.”
As well as £5,000, Ball received a three-month writing retreat at Gordon Burn’s cottage in the Scottish Borders.