Julia Armfield & Jon Ransom Bag The 2023 Polari Prizes

By Olivia Emily

6 months ago

'This year’s shortlist bravely re-empowers the past, interprets the present, and boldly imagines the future'

The winners of the 2023 Polari Prizes have officially been revealed, the UK’s only awards celebrating literature exploring the LGBTQ+ experience. Coming out tops are Julia Armfield who received the Polari Book Prize for her hypnotic and haunting deep-sea romance, Our Wives Under the Sea, and Jon Ransom who took home the Polari First Book Prize for his mesmerising tale of grief and love, The Whale Tattoo.

Last year’s winner and this year’s judge of the Polari First Book Prize, Adam Zmith 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.’

Meanwhile, Joelle Taylor, judge of the Polari Book Prize and last year’s winner, said of Armfield: ‘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.’

Here are the all the short- and long-listed books to add to your TBR.

The Polari Prize 2023

What Is The Polari Prize?

The Polari First Book Prize and the Polari Prize are two annual literary prizes awarded to literary works exploring the LGBTQ+ experience. Works across the genre spectrum are considered, including memoir, poetry, historical fiction and thrillers.

Sponsored in 2023 by literary PR consultancy FMcM and the D H H Literary Agency, the Polari First Book Prize has been awarded annually to a debut book since 2011, with the Polari Prize (which doesn’t require works to be debuts) introduced and first awarded in 2019. Both are part of Paul Burston’s Polari Literary Salon, a showcase for emerging and established LGBTQ+ literary talent. 

Previous winners of the First Book Prize include Fiona Mozley, Saleem Haddad, Paul McVeigh, Kirsty Logan and Diriye Osman. The first winner of the Polari Prize was Andrew McMillan (2019), followed by Kate Davies (2020), Diana Souhami (2021) and Joelle Taylor (2022).

Paul chairs the judging panel for both prizes. For the Polari Prize 2023, he is joined this year by author VG Lee, literary critic Suzi Feay, Chris Gribble of the National Centre for Writing, and 2022 Polari Book Prize winner, Joelle Taylor. For the Polari First Book Prize 2023, Paul is joined by author Rachel Holmes, poet Sophia Blackwell, author Karen McLeod and Adam Zmith, winner of the 2022 Polari First Book Prize.

The Shortlists

‘The quality of long-listed titles this year was so exceptionally high, a number of much-loved titles didn’t make the shortlists,’ says Polari Prize founder Paul Burston. ‘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.’

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at the British Library on Friday 24 November.

The Polari Prize Shortlist 2023

  • 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 School House by Sophie Ward (Corsair)

2023 Polari Prize Book Shortlist

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

‘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,’ adds Chris Gribble, Polari Book Prize judge. ‘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.’

The following books were longlisted, but didn’t make the shortlist:

  • A Working Class Family Ages Badly by Juno Roche (Dialogue Books)
  • Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley (Swift Press)
  • Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Rookie by Caroline Bird (Carcanet Press)
  • Cells by Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • ScreenAge by Fenton Bailey (Ebury Press)

The Polari First Book Prize Shortlist 2023

  • 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)

2023 Polari Prize First Book Shortlist

‘The shortlist is full of fearless, moving and original stories,’ says Sophia Blackwell, Polari First Book Prize judge. ‘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.’

‘Look no further for this year’s quintessential queer bookshelf to illuminate and inspire the approaching autumn evenings, winter weekends and festive season,’ adds Rachel Holmes, Polari First Book Prize judge. ‘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.’

The following books were longlisted, but didn’t make the shortlist:

  • Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness by Kevin Brazil (Influx Press)
  • Orpheus Builds a Girl by Heather Parry (Gallic Books)
  • In Her Jaws by Rosamund Taylor (Banshee Press)
  • Is This Love? by CE Riley (Serpent ’s Tail)
  • No Country for Girls by Emma Styles (Sphere)
  • Some Integrity by Padraig Regan (Carcanet Press)

2023 Polari Prize Shortlists