Books exploring intersectionality have dominated both 2021 Polari Prize shortlists, with Booker winner Douglas Stuart and Paul Mendez (pictured) both nominated and half the titles coming from independent publishers.
The Polari Prizes, the UK’s only literary awards for LGBTQ+ literature, were dominated by six titles exploring “the meeting points of class, race and sexuality,” organisers said.
In the £1,000 Polari First Book Prize, Mendez’s novel Rainbow Milk (Dialogue Books) explores the intersection of class, race, sexuality and religion across different generations, while Forced Out (Granta) by Kevin Maxwell recounts the author’s experience of working in the police force as a gay Black man from a working-class background. Barrister Mohsin Zaidi’s memoir of growing up in a strict Muslim family, A Dutiful Boy (Square Peg), has also been shortlisted alongside Tomasz Jędrowski’s Soviet Union-set novel Swimming in the Dark (Bloomsbury). Stuart’s Booker-winning novel Shuggie Bain (Picador) also received a nod while Andreena Leeanne’s poetry collection Charred (Team Angelica), dubbed “cathartic” by organisers, completed the six-strong shortlist.
In the £2,000 Polari Prize shortlist—which awards an overall Book of the Year, excluding debuts—the intersection of sexuality and religion is also explored in Iranian author Golnoosh Nour’s collection The Ministry of Guidance and other stories (Muswell Press). Steven Appleby’s graphic novel Dragman (Vintage) is also featured as well as poetry from Caroline Bird with The Air Year (Carcanet) and Rosie Garland’s What Girls Do In The Dark (Nine Arches Press). Neil Blackmore’s novel The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle (Windmill) and Diana Souhami’s study No Modernism Without Lesbians (Head of Zeus) complete the shortlist.
Author, Polari Prize founder and chair of judges Paul Burston said: “This year’s shortlists are our most diverse ever, with a wide variety of writers working across different genres to explore the intersections between sexuality, gender, race, class, religion and more. These 12 remarkable books include tales of resilience and celebration, love and pride, exploring the LGBTQ+ experience with emotional honesty, humour, passion and joy.”
In 2020 the Polari First Book Prize was won by Amrou-Al Kadhi for Life as a Unicorn: A Journey from Shame to Pride and Everything in Between (Fourth Estate), while the Polari Prize was won by Kate Davies for the novel In at the Deep End (Borough Press).
Both winning writers feature in the judging panels for the 2021 awards, and are joined by Angela Chadwick, Rachel Holmes and Keith Jarrett for the Polari First Book Prize with Suzi Feay, Chris Gribble and V G Lee judging the Polari Prize. Both panels are chaired by Burston.
The shortlists were announced on 28th July at a Polari Salon event at London LGBTQ+ venue Heaven. The winner of the 2021 Polari Prizes will be announced at an in-person event at the Southbank Centre on 30th October.