William Max Nelson wins £20k Notting Hill Essay Prize

William Max Nelson wins £20k Notting Hill Essay Prize

The winning essayist of the third £20k Notting Hill Essay Prize is William Max Nelson for his essay "Five Ways of Being a Painting". 

The judges awarded first prize to Nelson at the University Women's Club in Mayfair, London yesterday evening (28th June) for his "curious mix of the philosophical and the personal, the argumentative and the ruminative".

In total Notting Hill Editions received over 500 essay submissions for the biennial prize, open to essays on any subject written in English, between 2,000 and 8,000 words. The judges - Granta Magazine deputy editor Rosalind Porter, editor and critic Sameer Rahim, writer Kirsty Gunn, author, critic and essayist Daniel Mendelsohn and pop culture historian Travis Elborough - whittled these down from a shortlist of 13 chosen by readers to ultimately five finalists and the winner.

The five finalists each received £1,000 and have been published collectively alongside the winner of the £20k prize in a cloth-bound hardback book.

They were Laura Esther Wolfson, interpreter for Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich, whose essay "Losing the Nobel" delves into her relationship with writing; Garret Keizer, whose "witty" and "self-deprecating" essay "Grub" was praised as a "thoughtful meditation on contemporary American society"; Dasha Shkurpela, whose essay "Dacha" uses Soviet summer houses as a jumping-off point; Patrick McGuinness, for his essay "The Future of Nostalgia" and Karen Holmberg, for "In My Head I Carry my Own Zoo".

On winning, Nelson called it "an amazing moment" and "an amazing opportunity", revealing it was his first literary work outside of academia. 

The prize was awarded days after the death of Notting Hill Editions founder Tom Kremer, who died on Saturday aged 87.

"I would really have liked the chance to have met Tom Kremer," Nelson added. "What he has started here will live on."

Kremer founded the Essay Prize at the age of 80 to restore the essay in its literary and commercial form, speaking about his aims in interview with The Bookseller two weeks ago.

His daughter, Kim Kremer, publisher of Notting Hill Editions, said in tribute during the evening: "He was not afraid of difficult things. He relished challenges and was a man who could make things happen - why else would you found a publishing company at the age of 80 with no background at all in publishing? 

"He felt very passionately about the essay form. He felt it was vital in our times, more than ever in its history, that we should be using and celebrating this form. He wanted to establish it in the centre of cultural life, and he wanted to do it also against much of the advice he had received in the digital age by publishing these essays in beautiful hardback books that would not be thrown away, that would demand aesthetic respect from the reader. Now Notting Hill Editions is well on its way to achieving that aim."

She added: "He is the reason we are all here tonight. He was a Hungarian Jew who adopted this country and loved it and particularly loved the English language. And he felt the prize would bring to light essayists who are often not found in the usual expected places."

Notting Hill Editions recently launched a new prize with the Curious Arts Festival, the Notting Hill Editions Curious Film Essay Prize, inviting film-makers to submit a short documentary film on any subject they choose. Judges include Reasons to Stay Alive author Matt Haig, publisher of Notting Hill Editions Kim Kremer and Nick Marston, who heads up Cuba Productions and the Curtis Brown Film and TV department. The winner will receive £500 and two tickets for the Curious Arts Festival. The deadline for submission is 7th July 2017.