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PolarI prize 2022



•  Award-winning writer Adam Zmith wins the Polari First Book Prize for his keenly-researched history of poppers and their role in queer life, Deep Sniff

•  Pioneer of the British spoken word scene Joelle Taylor wins the overall Polari Prize for her electrifying poetry collection, exploring the UK’s underground lesbian culture, C+nto & Othered Poems

•  The winner of the inaugural Polari Children’s and YA Prize is Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew, praised for being “important and radical”

Adam Zmith and Joelle Taylor have been announced as the winners of the 2022 Polari Prizes, the UK’s only awards celebrating literature exploring the LGBTQ+ experience. Zmith becomes the 12th winner of the Polari First Book Prize for his expanisve history of poppers and their relationship to LGBTQ+ culture, Deep Sniff (Repeater Books).

Joelle Taylor takes home the overall Polari Prize for non-debut talent for her new poetry collection, C+nto & Othered Poems (The Westbourne Press/Saqi Books) which explores and honours the female body.

The winners were announced in a ceremony held at the Polari Prize’s new home, the British Library.

These are both titles that underscore the significance of clubland in providing a safe space in which the LGBTQ+ community can be their true selves, and these books explore what those true selves might be and how, even within the LGBTQ+ world, one might feel marginalised.

Deep Sniff is a potent history of poppers’ marketisation and co-option by neoliberal capitalism, which argues in favour of radical queer futures and derestricted categories of love, sex and gender. Since their popularisation in the late nineteenth century, poppers have metabolised into the lifeblood of queer culture, and can now be spotted across both mainstream and fringe LGBTQ+ literature, film, music, pornography and comics; wafting from Studio 54 and Soho, to bedside tables.

Adopting the methods of a documentary maker, Adam Zmith, who was the recipient of the London Writers Award 2019-2020, ingeniously scours the archives to forge a rich account of this until-now under-acknowledged drug and the lives of those who use it, offering an expansive popular history of desire across time.


Adam Zmith will be appearing at A Very Polari Xmas at Eagle London on Thursday December 15th, which also includes readings from Barbara Brownskirt and Susie Boyt and an afterparty until midnight, with host Paul Burston on the decks. Tickets are selling fast!

Paul Burston, founder of the Polari Salon and Chair of the Judges of the Polari First Book Prize said of the book: ‘ The judges all agreed that this was a witty, well researched and ground breaking book which honours our queer past while also looking to the future.’

In Joelle Taylor’s C+nto & Othered Poems, which was named Bernardine Evaristo’s Book of the Year in the New Statesman, Taylor reflects on the female body as a political space and explores sexuality and gender in poetry that is lyrical, expansive, imagistic, and intimate. C+nto enters the private lives of women from the butch counterculture. It tells the inside story of the protests they led in the ’90s to reclaim their bodies as their own; their difficult balance between survival and self-expression.

As the most visible of lesbian archetypes, butches have often born the brunt of homophobia, but C+nto is defiant and unapologetic, with one foot rooted in the past and the other stepping firmly into the future.

History, magic, rebellion, party and sermon vibrate through Joelle Taylor’s cantos to uncover these underground communities forged by women. Part-memoir and part-conjecture,C+nto is a love poem, a riot, a late night, and an honouring.

Praising the winner, 2021 Polari Prize winner and judge, Diana Souhami said: ‘Joelle Taylor has a Midas touch with words. C+nto will open eyes, hearts and minds. Here is poetry that defends our right to walk without fear, wear what we choose, be who we uniquely are. A clear Polari Prize winner.’

Judges for the First Book Prize are author Rachel Holmes, poets Keith Jarrett and Sophia Blackwell and 2021 prize winner Mohsin Zaidi, who won for his memoir A Dutiful Boy. The winner receives a cheque for £1,000 from prize sponsors FMcM Associates.

The judging panel for the Polari Prize includes author VG Lee, literary critic Suzi Feay, Chris Gribble of the National Centre for Writing and 2021 prize winner Diana Souhami, who won for No Modernism Without Lesbians. The winner receives a cheque for £2,000 from prize sponsors D H H Literary Agency.

Both prize panels are chaired by founder, journalist and author Paul Burston, who added: ‘Both books pay tribute to vital parts of LGBTQ+ cultural history which are all too often overlooked. These are books as battle cries, as triumphs over adversity, as shamelessly gay gossip and the pursuit of pleasure in spite of all the heartaches of the past. They are everything the Polari Prizes stand for.’

The winner of the inaugural Polari Children’s & YA Prize is Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew.

Author and Chair of the Judges for the Polari Children’s &YA Prize, Jodie Lancet-Grant said: “We are delighted that Nen and the Lonely Fisherman has won the inaugural children’s and YA category of the Polari Prize. The judges agreed that this book does something important and radical by centring a queer love story in a picture book for young children. The

story is innovative and moving, and the artwork truly stunning. Congratulations to Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew.”


Notes to Editors


About the Polari Prize | The award has been covered in a wide range of publications including Metro, the Guardian, the i, Irish Independent, Press Association, Gay Times, Winq and BBC Radio, The London Magazine, Wasafiri and elsewhere.


The Polari First Book Prize was launched in 2011 and previous winners include Fiona Mozley, Saleem Haddad, Paul McVeigh, Kirsty Logan, Diriye Osman, John McCullough, Mari Hannah, James Maker, Angela Chadwick, Amrou Al-Kadhi and Mohsin Zaidi.

The Polari Prize, founded in 2019, was awarded to Andrew McMillan in its inaugural year, and to Kate Davies in 2020 and Diana Souhami in 2021.

About Paul Burston

Paul Burston is an author and founder of the Polari Literary Salon and Polari Prizes.

A founding editor of Attitude magazine, he has written for many publications including the Guardian, Time Out, The Times and The Sunday Times.

He is the author of several non-fiction books, the editor of two short story collections and the author of six novels, including Lovers and Losers, which was shortlisted for the Stonewall Award.

In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s #FiveFilms4Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world.”

His latest novel is The Closer You Get, published in 2019 by Orenda Books.

His memoir We Can Be Heroes will be published by Little A in June 2023.

About Jodie Lancet-Grant

Jodie Lancet-Grant is the author of The Pirate Mums and The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures, both published by Oxford University Press Children’s Books.

She is also Associate Publisher for Bluebird and Innovation at Pan Macmillan and a freelance journalist, having written recently for outlets including the Independent and Diva magazine. She has spoken about the need for better representation of LGBTQ+ themes in children’s culture across the media, including on Virgin Radio, local BBC stations and Radio 2.


Details of next year's Polari Prize awards will be announced in Feb 2023. 

Prizes are open to writers born or based in the UK and Ireland, published in the 12 months up to the submissions date.

Please subscribe and wait for the call for submissions before contacting us about next year's awards.

Thank you.

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