Zadie Smith and Ben Lerner shortlisted for Rathbones Folio Prize 2020

Zadie Smith and Ben Lerner shortlisted for Rathbones Folio Prize 2020

Zadie Smith and Ben Lerner are among the eight authors shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020.

Penguin Random House has the most nominations, with titles from imprints Chatto, Hamish Hamilton and (two from) Jonathan Cape recognised on the shortlist, while titles from Fourth Estate, Picador and independents Scribe and Granta round off the list.

In non-fiction, journalist, writer and academic Azadeh Moaveni’s Guest House for Young Widows (Scribe), author and critic Laura Cumming’s On Chapel Sands (Chatto) and Irish essayist, critic and fiction writer Sinéad Gleeson’s debut essay collection Constellations (Picador) made the shortlist.

Fiction contenders include Zadie Smith, shortlisted for her first short story collection Grand Union (Hamish Hamilton); Valeria Luiselli’s novel Lost Children Archive (4th Estate), inspired by her work with young migrants on the Mexico-US border; James Lasdun’s novel Victory (Cape), written in two novellas; and Ben Lerner’s experimental third novel, The Topeka School (Granta).

Fiona Benson’s poetry collection Vertigo & Ghost (Cape), awarded the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection, is also up for the prize.

Chair of judges Paul Farley said: “The books shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 tell stories and ask questions about how and why stories get told. They speak to their moment and take soundings from fellow writers, past and present. They record, investigate and explore. They navigate their way through various storms, they allow for doubts and uncertainties. Common themes might echo through their collective pages, but in the end each book is irreducibly its own craft and vessel.”

Rathbones c.e.o. Paul Stockton said: “At Rathbones, we invest internationally across a broad range of genres and try to pick the best there is to offer. The Rathbones Folio Prize mirrors this approach in the literary world, allowing us, and society as a whole, to benefit from novels, poetry and short stories that eloquently tackle some of the political and personal issues of today. This shortlist reflects why Rathbones is proud to sponsor such a unique prize. Backed by an academy of writers that assures the breadth and the quality you see in these eight books, it won’t be easy for the judges to choose their winner.”

Speaking at last night's shortlisting event, Stockton added: “The standard has been ridiculously high, but I think we’ve arrived at a shortlist we all feel invested in and happy to shout from the rooftops. If you haven’t read them, investigate. We have no idea how we’re going to separate them but separate them we will.”

This year’s judges are poet and non-fiction writer Farley, 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 recipient.

The 2020 winner will be announced at the British Library on 23rd March.