The longlist for the 2022 Portico Prize has been revealed, with works by Tabitha Lasley, Andrew O'Hagan and Anita Sethi making the cut.
The £10,000 biennial prize is open to new works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry that best evoke the spirit of the north of England. This year's longlist of 14 books was selected by the Portico Prize’s Society of Readers & Writers, an appointed group of 21 book lovers and literary enthusiasts with connections to the north. The books explore themes of family, friendship, class, race, identity, masculinity, sexuality, and the meaning of place and memories of the past.
Independent publishers are strongly represented on the list, with titles from Lightning Books, Faber, Jacaranda , Bloomsbury, Little Toller and Oneworld.
Of the 10 fiction titles on the list, five are debut novels: The Outsiders by James Corbett (Lightning Books), set against the backdrop of the Liverpool riots in the early 1980s; The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ), a moving story of a multi-generational British Muslim family; The Khan by Saima Mir (Oneworld), a crime thriller with a female British Pakistani protagonist; Toto Among the Murderers by Sally J Morgan (J M Originals), based on her own experience of being offered a lift by Fred and Rosemary West; and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue), set in Manchester about a teenager who longs to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian culture.
The other fiction titles on the list are: Ghosted (Sceptre) an unconventional love story and the ninth book by Preston-born Jenn Ashworth; The Blind Light by Stuart Evers (Picador), a compelling social history of Britain told through two generations of a family; Mrs England by Stacey Halls (Manilla Press), a portrait of an Edwardian marriage set in West Yorkshire; Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan (Faber), a powerful story of male friendships that charts an epic night out in Manchester in 1986; and Male Tears (Bloomsbury) by Benjamin Myers, a collection of short stories which gathers more than 15 years of work tackling the nature of masculinity. Myers was joint winner of the Portico Prize in 2015 and was also shortlisted in 2019.
Of the four non-fiction titles, three are debuts: Sea State (Fourth Estate) a compelling memoir by Tabitha Lasley about her time spent with offshore North Sea oil-rig workers; I Belong Here by journalist Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury), a story of reclamation through natural landscapes following a racist hate crime on a journey through the North of England; and Ghost Town (Little Toller) in which Jeff Young, a writer for radio, stage and television, layers memory, history and photography to journey back to the Liverpool of his childhood. Also in non-fiction is Katy Massey’s second book, Are We Home Yet? (Jacaranda) a moving and funny story, set between 1935 and 2010, of a girl who discovers that her mother earns money as a sex worker.
Mike Murphy, member of the Society of Readers & Writers, said: “As judges of the longlist, we were looking for titles that would move the needle on what people expect from northern literature. It would be wrong to think of this as a parochial prize. Readers will find a huge variety of perspectives, of experiences and of takes on where we are now in the north of England and beyond. Whatever you’re after, it’ll be there in the longlist somewhere.”
Lynne Allan, chair of The Portico Library, added: “The Society of Readers & Writers have excelled themselves with the diverse and exciting choices they have made. Both independent and larger publishers are represented and we are particularly pleased with the innovative mix of formats and genres including fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir and biography. New and exciting voices sit alongside established authors. Each one of the longlisted books has the power to engage and move the reader, whatever their background, and reflect the myriad rich experience of northern life. Our eminent panel of judges have a formidable task in front of them.”
A shortlist of six books will be announced on 7th December and will be selected by a panel of judges, chaired by author and broadcaster Gary Younge. He is joined by the broadcaster Melanie Sykes, author and former Portico Prize-winner Sarah Hall, the poet and essayist and former Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri and Anita Singh, arts and entertainment editor at the Daily Telegraph.
The Portico Prize was established in 1985 to celebrate the strong regional and literary identity of the north of England with the aim of raising awareness of its historical, cultural and literary heritage.
Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of The Portico Library in 2022. The winner will be announced at a ceremony at the Portico Library in Manchester on 20th January 2022.