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Polari prize winners


Returning to the British Library for the winner’s ceremony, Jon Ransom and Julia Armfield were announced as the winners of the 2023 Polari Prizes. Ransom took home the Polari First Book Prize for his mesmerising tale of grief and love, The Whale Tattoo (Muswell Press) and Julia Armfield received the Polari Book Prize for her hypnotic and haunting deep-sea romance, Our Wives Under the Sea (Picador). The Polari Prizes are the UK’s only awards celebrating literature exploring the LGBTQ+ experience. This year, both winning titles explore complex landscapes and elusive narratives that ask the reader to imagine all possibilities, build new stories and inspire hope; expanding on what LGBTQ+ literature can be.

Adam Zmith, judge of the Polari First Book Prize and last year’s winner, said: “Jon Ransom’s novel is suffused with salt air and gay longing. It transported me to a life that is not my own, and yet one where I recognised myself, too. Ransom conjures up gorgeously evocative images for his hostile locations and finds love and energy there.”

Joelle Taylor, judge of the Polari Book Prize and last year’s winner, said: “While each of the shortlisted works is a dynamic addition to the LGBT+ literary canon, Our Wives Under the Sea opens up what we believe is possible from queer writing. It is a strange, speculative, poetic and thrilling novel – a heart turner as much as a page turner.”

Paul Burston, founder and chair of judges for both categories, said: “In their different ways, both of this year’s winning books expand our understanding of what LGBTQ+ literature can and should be. These are novels which entertain, seduce and provoke thought. They take us out of ourselves and invite us to explore other worlds. They’re also books full of promise. I can’t wait to see what this year’s winning writers do next.”

Julia Armfield was born in London in 1990. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Master’s in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Award 2018, and won the White Review Short Story Prize 2018. Her critically acclaimed short story collection, salt slow, was published in 2019. She won the Pushcart Prize in 2020.

The Whale Tattoo is a powerful debut from Jon Ransom that explores grief, love and forgiveness. Written with incredible skill and sensitivity, it’s a potent novel that draws readers to Norfolk and introduces them to the characters that call for Joe Gunner, the protagonist, to return home.

Jon Ransom was a mentee on the 2019 Escalator Talent Development scheme at the National Centre for Writing. He is a Queer working class writing with no formal education. He developed The Whale Tattoo at Arvon’s Fiction: Work in Progress retreat, after winning a place on the 2018 Arts Council England TLC Free Read Scheme. Ransom’s short stories have appeared in SAND Journal, Foglifter Press and FIVE:2:ONE, amongst others. In April 2021 he was awarded a grant by Arts Council England to develop his novel, The Gallopers, to be published in 2024. He lives in Cambridgeshire.

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.

The Polari Book Prize also 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.

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 Adam 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, 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. ES Magazine called it ‘probably the gay book of the year’. In 2016, he featured in the British Council’s Global List of ‘33 visionary people promoting freedom equality and LGBT rights around the world’.

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

Polari In Heaven

Julia Armfield will be part of the lineup for Polari in Heaven on Jan 25.

Also featured are Neil Bartlett, Kate Davies and Alexis Gregory - plus there'll be live music from HiFi Sean and David McAlmont.

Tickets are available via OutSavvy and Eventbrite.

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