Matthew Todd, Bantam author and award-winning editorial director of gay magazine Attitude, is among the six authors shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize, awarded annually to a writer whose first book (whether poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction) explores what it is to be LGBT.
This year’s "eclectic" shortlist, spanning crime fiction, short story and memoir, was revealed on Monday evening (31st July) at the Polari Literary Salon in London’s Southbank Centre. It brings together three male and three female writers, hailing from Kuwait to Cardiff, whose work was said by the judges to offer a range of perspectives on the LGBT experience.
Todd (pictured), currently editorial director of Attitude, is shortlisted for Straight Jacket (Bantam). The book explores why statistics show a disproportionate number of gay people suffer from mental health problems and offers advice how to overcome difficult issues.
Joining him on the shortlist are Chitra Ramaswamy, Saleem Haddad, Jules Grant, Crystal Jeans, and Orlando Ortega-Medina.
Haddad is shortlisted for Guapa (Europa Editions UK), the story of a young gay man set in a post-Arab Spring dictatorship in the Middle East over the course of one day, highlighted as part of W H Smith Travel’s gay literature promotion to mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.
Ramaswamy is shortlisted for Expecting (Saraband), a memoir about the author's experience of pregnancy while in a relationship with another woman.
Barrister-turned-author Jules Grant, from Manchester, is shortlisted for literary revenge thriller We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire (Myriad), featuring lesbian gangster Donna and her god-daughter Aurora.
Crystal Jeans is shortlisted for The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise (Honno), a lesbian coming-of-age story about growing up wild in the 1990s and Gay Rights campaigner and writer Orlando Ortega-Medina is shortlisted for his debut short story collection Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions (Cloud Lodge), themes of which span desire, identity and death.
Chair of judges Paul Burston, said: “We are delighted with the breadth and strength of the work this year, which spans such a broad range of countries, cultures and experiences. Choosing six books from such a strong long list was extremely difficult. But in the end the judges came up with a shortlist we all agreed upon, and one which reflects the ethos of the prize. These six books are exceptionally well written and wonderfully diverse. Together they contain a wealth of insights about what it means to be LGBT today.”
Judges for the 2017 prize include Burston; Rachel Holmes, author and former head of literature and spoken word at the Southbank; literary critic Suzi Feay; author and comedian VG Lee; and playwright, actor and producer Alexis Gregory.
The overall winner of the prize, which was last year won by Belfast author Paul McVeigh, will be revealed at the London Literature Festival on 13th October at the Southbank Centre.
The shortlist announcement at Southbank coincides with a series of events as the Polari Salon celebrates 10 years of championing LGBT voices, with an LBGT literary tour. Beginning in July, it will showcase over 80 writers, including Todd, as well as Val McDermid and Paul Flynn.