Lemn Sissay’s account of his childhood in care My Name is Why (Canongate) has been shortlisted for the 2019 Slightly Foxed Best Biography Prize along with Francesca Segal’s story of sitting "vigil" for her premature twins, Mother Ship (Chatto & Windus).
Other books featured on the six-strong shortlist for the £2,5000 prize include Elizabeth Goldring’s Nicholas Hilliard (Yale University Press), billed as “a definitive life of one of England’s most notable artists” and his time at the centre of the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts, judges said.
Artist Celia Paul reveals her love affair with fellow painter Lucian Freud in “her profound and intimate memoir” Self-Portrait (Jonathan Cape) while fellow Vintage imprint Bodley Head is recognised for Jonathan Phillips’ The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin. It exposes how the Kurdish mercenary general who founded a great empire remains “thrillingly relevant” today.
Segal’s Mother Ship (Chatto & Windus) follows the writer’s experience of a vigil in neonatal intensive care after having identical twin girls born 10 weeks prematurely which combines “the tenderness of a love poem with the pace of a thriller”.
Meanwhile Sissay’s My Name is Why explores his childhood spent in care, featuring “all the lyricism and power you would expect from one of the nation’s best-loved poets”.
Completing the shortlist is The Photographer at Sixteen (MacLehose Press) by George Szirtes, described as “part memoir, part history, part poetic journey” which retraces his mother’s life from her childhood “in Europe’s darkest period to her life in Britain after the Hungarian uprising”.
This is the sixth year of the literary quarterly and independent publisher Slightly Foxed’s sponsorship of the Prize, with a winner’s award of £2,500. The winner will be announced on 10th March.
The judging panel includes TV critic and journalist Suzi Feay, editor and biographer Maggie Fergusson and Jonathan Keates, a novelist and journalist.
Bart van Es won last year's prize for The Cut Out Girl (Penguin).