The 2020 Prize was judged by Paul Farley (Chair), Nikita Lalwani and Ross Raisin.

Rathbones Folio Prize giving speech by Paul Farley

Last year, when I was invited to be Chair of the Rathbones Folio Prize, my first duty was to offer a few words for a press release. I heard myself saying something about how judging through the autumn and winter would lead to an emerging, sometime around the spring equinox, into the lengthening daylight with a winner.

Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 Shortlist

Announcing: the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 Shortlist

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...

The Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 Judges

Paul Farley

Paul Farley (chair) was born in Liverpool and studied at the Chelsea School of Art. He has published four collections of poetry, and also written non-fiction books, including Edgelands (with Michael Symmons Roberts), as well as editing a selection of John Clare’s poetry. A Fellow of the Royal Soci- ety of Literature and a frequent broadcaster, he has received numerous awards, including Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, the Whitbread Poetry Award and the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. His latest collection, The Mizzy, is published this year.

Nikita Lalwani

Nikita Lalwani was born in Rajasthan, India, and raised in Cardiff, Wales. Her first novel, Gifted, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa Award and won the Desmond Elliot Prize (after which she donated her prize money to the human rights organisation, Liberty). Her next novel, The Village, was also widely acclaimed, and her new novel, You People, will be published by Viking Penguin in June 2020. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Ross Raisin

Ross Raisin was born in West Yorkshire. His first novel, God’s Own Country, was published in 2008 and was shortlisted for nine literary awards, including the Guardian First Book Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. In 2009 Ross Raisin was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and in 2013 he was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British writers. Two more celebrated novels,Waterline and A Natural, have followed. Ross is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 Shortlist

Guest House for Young Widows  Azadeh Moaveni (Scribe) 

An intimate, deeply reported account of the women who made a shocking decision: to leave their comfortable lives behind and join the Islamic State.

Azadeh Moaveni is a journalist, writer, and academic who has been covering the Middle East for nearly two decades. She started reporting in Cairo in 1999 while on a Fulbright fellowship to the American University in Cairo. For the next several years she reported from throughout the region as Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, based in Tehran, and also covering Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. She is the author of Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran, and the co-author, with Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, of Iran Awakening. In November 2015 she published a front-page article in The New York Times on ISIS women defectors that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist as part of the Times’s ISIS coverage. Her writing appears in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The London Review of Books. She teaches journalism at NYU in London, is a former New America Fellow, and is now senior gender analyst at the International Crisis Group.

The Topeka School– Ben Lerner (Granta) 

The Topeka School is the story of a family, its struggles and its strengths: Jane’s reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan’s marital transgressions, the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity.

Ben Lerner was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright, Guggenheim,
and MacArthur Foundations, and is the author of two internationally acclaimed novels, Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04. He has published the poetry collections The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw (a finalist for the National Book Award), Mean Free Path and No Art as well as the essay The Hatred of Poetry. Lerner lives and teaches in Brooklyn.

Vertigo & Ghost – Fiona Benson (PRH/Cape)

Violence hangs over this book like an electric storm. Beginning with a poem about the teenage dawning of sexuality, Vertigo & Ghost pitches quickly into a long sequence of graphic, stunning pieces about Zeus as a serial rapist, for whom woman are prey and sex is weaponised.

Fiona Benson won an Eric Gregory Award in 2006 and a Faber New Poets Award in 2009. She lives in Mid Devon with her husband and their two daughters. Her first collection, Bright Travellers, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. It won the 2015 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the 2015 Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for First Full Collection.

Victory – James Lasdun (PRH/Cape)

In Feathered Glory the seemingly happy marriage of a school principal and his artist wife reveals dangerous fault-lines as an old lover reappears in the husband’s life and the wife, fascinated by a charismatic wildlife rehabilitator, brings an injured swan into their home.

James Lasdun’s books include The Fall Guy and Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. He teaches creative writing at Columbia University and reviews regularly for the Guardian. His work has been filmed by Bernardo Bertolucci (Besieged) and he co-wrote the films Sunday, which won Best Feature and Best Screenplay awards at Sundance, and Signs and Wonders, starring Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgård.

On Chapel Sands – Laura Cumming (PRH/Chatto)

Uncovering the mystery of her mother’s disappearance as a child: Laura Cumming, prize-winning author and art critic, takes a closer look at her family story.

Laura Cumming has been chief art critic of the Observer since 1999. Her book, The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez, was Book of the Week on Radio 4, Wall Street Journal Book of the Year and a New York Times bestseller. It won the 2017 James Tait Black Biography Prize and was published to critical acclaim (‘A riveting detective story: readers will be spellbound’ Colm Tóibín). Her first book, A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits, was described by Nick Hornby as ‘Brilliant, fizzing with ideas not just about art but human nature’ and by Julian Barnes as ‘that rare item: an art book where the text is so enthralling that the pictures almost seem like an interruption’.

Constellations – Sinead Gleeson (Picador)

In the tradition of some of our finest life writers, and yet still in her own spirited, generous voice, Sinéad takes us on a journey that is both uniquely personal and yet universal in its resonance. Here is the fierce joy and pain of being alive.

Sinéad Gleeson’s debut collection Constellations: Reflections from Life (Picador 2019) won Non-Fiction Book of the Year at 2019 Irish Book Awards. Her essays have been published by Granta, Winter Papers and Gorse, and broadcast by BBC and RTÉ. Her short stories have been featured in several anthologies including Being Various: New Irish Short Stories (Faber, 2019) and Repeal the 8th (Unbound, 2018). She has edited the award- winning anthologies The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland, with The Art of Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories, forthcoming from Head of Zeus in October 2020.

Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli (4th Estate)

A breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive is timely, compassionate, subtly hilarious, and formally inventive—a powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.

Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983. She is the author of the novels Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth, which won the 2016 LA Times Book Prize for Fiction; the essay collection Sidewalks; and Tell Me How It Ends, an essay about the situation facing children arriving at the US-Mexico border without papers. Lost Children Archive is her first novel written in English.

Grand Union – Zadie Smith (PRH/Hamish Hamilton)

Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us.

Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW and Swing Time, as well as a novella, The Embassy of Cambodia, and a collection of essays, Changing My Mind, and editor of The Book of Other People. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Orange Prize for Fiction, and NW was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Zadie Smith is currently a tenured professor of fiction at New York.

The Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 Longlist

Let Me Not Be Mad – A.K. Benjamin (PRH – Bodley Head)

Guest House for Young Widows – Azadeh Moaveni (Scribe)

The Topeka School – Ben Lerner (Granta)

Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez (PRH – Chatto)

The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead (Hachette – Fleet)

Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout (PRH – Viking)

Vertigo and Ghost – Fiona Benson (PRH – Cape)

The Parisian – Isabella Hammad (PRH – Cape)

Victory – James Lasdun (PRH – Cape)

On Chapel Sands – Laura Cumming (PRH – Chatto)

The Built Moment – Lavinia Greenlaw (Faber)

The Heartland – Nathan Filer (Faber)

Lost and Wanted – Nell Freudenberger (PRH – Viking)

Throw Me to the Wolves – Patrick McGuinness (PRH – Cape)

Frolic and Detour – Paul Muldoon (Faber)

This Is Not Propaganda – Peter Pomerantsev (Faber)

Constellations – Sinéad Gleeson (Picador)

Late in the Day – Tessa Hadley (PRH – Cape)

The Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli (4th Estate)

Grand Union – Zadie Smith (PRH – Hamish Hamilton)

Ross Raisin, Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 judge, on the longlist:
You will often hear judging panels speak with a kind of mystical oneness about a listing decision, as if each judge came indubitably to the same conclusion, which is of course daft. In drawing up this longlist, the three of us naturally had differing opinions and personal preferences – and it was precisely the ardent discussion of these thoughts, articulating through deep study of the nominations what makes a particular book stand out, that we were able to distil the eighty nominated books into a longlist of twenty that we all felt satisfied with and passionate about.
It is one of the distinctive qualities of the Rathbones Folio Prize that different forms are brought together. There are no exact criteria that can usefully compare poetry to narrative non-fiction, a short story to an essay, though there are certain essential attributes that we demand of the longlisted books: of an individual language, perfectly and consistently integrated to the piece’s idea; of a carefully crafted structure; and above all of originality – a book that we had never seen before.  
Each of these twenty books is unique. And yet, any reader who goes upon the happy venture of reading this longlist will find recurrent themes, images, pulsing through the collection: of language weaponised or silenced; of the archiving of memory; of battles for control of the body; of disenfranchisement, faith, community and – in the language of our award winning book, speaking for all of us at the present moment – of being alone together.”