Valeria Luiselli has won the £30,00 Rathbones Folio Prize for her "fiercely imaginative" autobiographical work of fiction, Lost Children Archive (Fourth Estate), inspired by the author's work with young migrants on the Mexico-US border. In the process she became the first woman to win the prize since its inception in 2013.
The book, which was the Mexican novelist and essayist's third novel but her first written in English, had previously been longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019 and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. To win the Rathbones Folio Prize, it fought off stiff competition from writers including Zadie Smith and Ben Lerner.
Awarded to "the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form", 2020's prize was presented at its first digital ceremony owing to the coronavirus outbreak, with all judges' comments shared live over Twitter.
"In a year of brilliant books, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is our unanimous choice as winner of the 2020 Rathbones Folio Prize," chair of judges Paul Farley said, "and we’re all thrilled and delighted to be able to celebrate this genuinely original and bravura performance of a novel: a road trip, a documentary, a portrait of a family and of the American borderlands, and a journey into the idea of home and belonging doesn’t even begin to do justice to this singular, teeming, extraordinary book."
Paul Stockton, c.e.o. of Rathbones said: "As we watch how rapidly our world can change and impact people’s lives, the judges of the Rathbones Folio Prize have unanimously rallied behind a book that will bring the personal story of a disintegrating American family embarking on a fraught road trip to a worldwide audience. Rathbones is very proud to sponsor this prize which is uniquely backed by an academy of writers and crosses many genres to find the very best book written in the English language. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a piece of writing that will have a powerful, and long-lasting impact on readers everywhere."
Waterstones fiction buyer Bea Carvalho called Luiselli "a truly worthy winner" ahead of a promotion offering 500 people currently self-isolating the chance to win a copy of Lost Children Archive, which will be delivered to them at home.
"In a year rich with excellent new books, Lost Children Archive stands out as an especially impressive work which exemplifies how exciting, intelligent, and creative fiction is today," said Carvalho. "It is a beautiful novel and an important study of modern humanity which deserves to be read widely. I’m thrilled that it has been chosen as the Rathbones Folio Prize-winner this year, and that this gives us a new opportunity to share it with even more of our customers."
Farley was joined on the panel of judges by the Desmond Elliott Prize-winning novelist Nikita Lalwani and Ross Raisin, Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year winner and a Granta Best of Young British Novelists.