Rathbones, Finsbury Circus – The fiction, poetry and non-fiction on the shortlist for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 – announced in London tonight – speaks to the #MeToo movement with a bold evocation of Zeus and delivers a radical new take on the American family saga; journeys through the female body in essays and tackles the US border crisis in a committed piece of autofiction; dives into the dark corners of the male psyche and aims to understand why women join the Islamic State.

Zadie Smith – shortlisted for her first collection of short stories – joins previous Folio Prize shortlistee Ben Lerner alongside acclaimed novelist James Lasdun and rising star Valeria Luiselli. The poet Fiona Benson, winner of the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection, is shortlisted next to non-fiction from journalist and writer Azadeh Moaveni, the author and critic Laura Cumming, and debut writer Sinéad Gleeson. The list features an American, an Iranian-American, an Irishwoman and a Mexican, alongside four British authors, with three novels, three works of non-fiction, a poetry and a short story collection now in the running for the £30,000 prize.

Paul Farley, chair of the judges, 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.”

The Rathbones Folio Prize – also known as the Writers’ Prize – is the only prize governed by an international academy of distinguished writers and critics, the Folio Academy. It is borderless and open to all genres – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry – which means it reflects a greater diversity and variety of voices present in our literary culture and society as a whole.

For Guest House for Young Widows (Scribe), the journalist, writer and academic Azadeh Moaveni, who was born in Iran and raised in the US, has extensively travelled the Middle East, often with unprecedented access, to report on the women who decided to leave comfortable lives behind to join the Islamic State. Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School (Granta), delivers a radical take on the American family saga in a perspective-shifting, experimental and poetic work of fiction.

The prize-winning British author and critic Laura Cumming uses the mystery of her mother’s disappearance as a child to take a closer look at her family story for On Chapel Sands (Chatto). Fiona Benson’s poetry collection Vertigo & Ghost (Cape), which was awarded the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection, is a bold take on misogynistic violence, ancient myth and motherhood.

Victory (Cape), by James Lasdun, is a novel written in two novellas, exploring male sexual violence, power and corruption. Constellations (Picador) – the debut collection of Irish essayist, critic and fiction writer Sinéad Gleeson – is a journey, in essays, from pregnancy to first love, from motherhood to terrifying sickness, from old age to death itself.

Valeria Luiselli, who was born in Mexico and lives in the US, was inspired by her work with young migrants on the Mexico-US border to write Lost Children Archive (4th Estate), her third novel, and the first she has written in English, which interweaves two journeys into a teasingly autobiographical work of fiction. Zadie Smith is shortlisted for her first ever collection of short stories, Grand Union (Hamish Hamilton), which moves from the historic to the slyly dystopian as it tackles time and place, identity and rebirth.

Paul Stockton, Rathbones CEO, 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.”

This year’s prize is being judged by the multi award-winning poet and non-fiction writer Paul Farley, the Desmond Elliot Prize-winning novelist Nikita Lalwani and Ross Raisin, Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year winner and a Granta Best of Young British Novelists.

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

Read the full press release here: 2020 EMBARGOED Media Release – Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 announces shortlist