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Polari Prize 2023 shortlists

Updated: Sep 28, 2023


Memoir, non-fiction, and critically acclaimed literary fiction from a mixture of independent presses and larger publishers dominate the dynamic shortlists for this year’s Polari Prize and Polari First Book Prize, the UK’s only dedicated awards for LGBTQ+ literature.

“The quality of long-listed titles this year was so exceptionally high, a number of much-loved titles didn’t make the shortlists” said Paul Burston, founder of the prizes. “Taken together, this year’s shortlists are a powerful testament to the quality and diversity of LGBTQ+ writing in the UK and Ireland today. From dazzling debuts to writers delivering on their earlier promise and really upping their game, these are books to entertain, enrich and inspire.”

Powerful stories of resilience and resistance are the focus of this year’s Polari First Book Prize. None

of the Above by Travis Alabanza (Canongate) is an electric memoir exploring life outside the gender boundaries imposed on us by society. Edward Enninful’s A Visible Man (Bloomsbury) also makes

the list, detailing how the man behind British Vogue has built an extraordinary life; more memoir makes an appearance with It’s A Sin’s Jill Nader and her heartbreaking and eye-opening memoir, Love from the Pink Palace (Wildfire). Fiction titles spotlighted in this category are Jon Ransom’s complex and transporting The Whale Tattoo (Muswell Press) and Tom Crewe’s historical debut novel, The New Life (Chatto & Windus). Rounding up the Polari First Book Prize is Livia Kojo Alour with Rising of the Black Sheep, the only poetry title in the shortlists.

Poet Sophia Blackwell, Polari First Book Prize judge, said:

“The shortlist is full of fearless, moving and original stories. Full of insights about how the authors came to occupy their particular places in the world, they also set out hopeful, ambitious visions for the future.”

Rachel Holmes, Polari First Book Prize judge, said: “Look no further for this year’s quintessential queer bookshelf to illuminate and inspire the approaching autumn evenings, winter weekends and festive season. There’s a beautiful, brilliant read here for all the queer family. Comfortably encompassing diverse genres and multiple points of view, fledgling emerging talent and celebrated household names, this year’s shortlist bravely re-empowers the past, interprets the present, and boldly imagines the future.”

Adam Zmith, Polari First Book Prize judge, said: “The titles on the shortlist for this year’s Polari First Book Prize wrestle with history and the present moment in engaging and empathetic ways. I loved reading these books, and feeling the queer power in them and their authors’ visions.”

Karen McLeod, Polari First Book Prize judge, said: “This shortlist is dynamic, expansive, moving and truly novel (is it too late to request a box of tissues as a rider?) I am proud we have such a diverse and emotionally intelligent set of queer voices being published today.”

Queer utopias, further memoir and exquisite prose feature in the Polari Book Prize shortlist with Jack Parlett’s Fire Island (Granta), a vivid hymn to an iconic destination, being selected and poet Seán Hewitt turns his hand to memoir in All Down Darkness Wide (Jonathan Cape). A varied spread of fiction completes the shortlist with Julia Armfield’s deep sea love story Our Wives Under the Sea, Okechukwu Nzelu’s tender study of family and grief Here Again Now (Dialogue Books), Sophie Ward’s gripping thriller The Schoolhouse (Corsair) and concluding the list is Douglas Stuart’s heartbreaking Young Mungo (Picador).

Joelle Taylor, Polari Book Prize judge, said: “This year’s Polari Prize shortlist reflects the complexities of contemporary LGBT+ lives in work that is nuanced, expansive, intimate and strange. History, futurism, crime, poetic memoir, and social commentary collide to create rich narratives that rewrite us even as we read.”

VG Lee, Polari Book Prize judge, said: “We have a strong and diverse shortlist for the Polari Prize. These are books that will appeal to many. They are that odd word, “keepers”- books to return to.”

Suzi Feay, Polari Book Prize judge, said: “This year’s shortlist highlights the sheer range and power of LGBTQ+ writing across all genres. Passionate, stylish and outspoken, these are voices to haunt and seduce. Our six choices deserve the widest readership.”

Chris Gribble, Polari Book Prize judge, said: “This year’s Polari Prize shortlist lays out the joys, challenges and complexities of contemporary and historical LGBTQ+ lives in a brilliant array of fiction and non-fiction that will leave no one in any doubt that our stories are worthy of their places on every book shelf and in every library. These writers are working at the peak of their powers and if you haven’t read their work yet, you have a real treat in store.”

2023 Polari Book Prize (non-debut)

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield (Picador)

All Down Darkness Wide by Seán Hewitt (Jonathan Cape)

Here Again Now by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue Books) Fire Island by Jack Parlett (Granta Books)

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (Picador)

The Schoolhouse by Sophie Ward (Corsair)

2023 Polari First Book Prize

None of the Above by Travis Alabanza (Canongate Books)

Rising of the Black Sheep by Livia Kojo Alour (Polari Press)

The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto & Windus)

A Visible Man by Edward Enninful (Bloomsbury)

Love from the Pink Palace by Jill Nalder (Wildfire)

The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom (Muswell Press)

Established in 2011, The Polari First Book Prize is awarded annually to a debut book that explores the LGBTQ+ experience, and has previously been won by writers including Kirsty Logan, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Mohsin Zaidi and last year’s winner Adam Zmith, for his keenly-researched history of poppers, Deep Sniff.

Established in 2019, The Polari Book Prize awards an overall book of the year, excluding debuts, and previous winners include Andrew McMillan (Playtime), Kate Davies (In At the Deep End), Diana Souhami (No Modernism Without Lesbians) and last year’s winner Joelle Taylor for her remarkable collection C+nto & Othered Poems which explores butch lesbian counterculture in London.

The Polari Prize will return to the British Library for a second year for the winner ceremony on Friday 24th November 2023 - book HERE

For all media enquiries please contact Ned Green or Hope Ndaba at FMcM Associates on or

Notes to Editors

About The Polari Prize

The Polari Prize is the UK and Ireland’s only dedicated LGBTQ+ book prize, founded by author and activist, Paul Burston. 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, Mohsin Zaidi and Zmith. The Polari Prize, founded in 2019, was awarded to Andrew McMillan in its inaugural year, and to Kate Davies in 2020, Diana Souhami in 2021 and Joelle Taylor in 2022.

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 4, The London Magazine, Wasafiri and elsewhere. For further details on the prize, please visit

About Paul Burston

Paul Burston is an author, activist 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, Times and 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. His most recent novel is The Closer You Get, published in 2019 by Orenda Books. His memoir We Can Be Heroes was published by Little A in June 2023 to rave reviews from across the industry including from Russell T. Davies and Bernardine Evaristo. 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.”

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