Folio Prize announces its inaugural shortlist

It’s been a long time coming – we first reported on it back in 2011, when it was tentatively called The Literature Prize and being mooted as a reaction to a Booker shortlist sniffily dismissed as ‘readable’ – but the Folio Prize is finally due to make its debut award next month, and so has released its inaugural shortlist. Described at its launch near enough this time last year as a companion rather than rival to the Booker, in the manner of the FA Cup and the Premiership (which The Independent memorably pointed out was ‘a football metaphor’), the prize draws its nominees from the suggestions of an ‘Academy’ of writers and critics, and is open to work written in the English language from anywhere in the world, with the winner receiving a cheque for £40,000.

The majority of the nominees for this first year of the prize are, perhaps predictably, American, with five coming from the USA, two from the UK and one from Canada (and yes, this is the reason the Booker is expanding its reach beyond the Commonwealth for the first time this year). Most notable amongst the American nominees is A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, grappling with America’s War on Drugs, initially self-published online and building word of mouth to become one of the most buzzed about and, ultimately, acclaimed novels of 2013. His fellow citizen nominees are Rachel Kushner’s similarly ecstatically received The Flamethrowers, a chronicle of artistic life in 1970s New York and Italy; Tenth of December, the latest collection of short stories by widely adored master of the form George Saunders; previous National Book Award finalist Kent Haruf’s Benediction; and Schroeder, the third novel by Amity Gaige.

Rounding out the shortlist are Last Friends, the final book in 85 year-old English author Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth” trilogy; Anglo-Irish Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing; and the Canadian Anne Carson’s combination of drama, prose and poetry, Red Doc. Rather hearteningly, that means there are five female nominees to three male, which is certainly a fine benchmark to set in a world of literary prizes that too often still seem like a boys club. The winner is announced on 10 March.

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