Keeping Apprised of Prizes – 24 February 2024

In the midst of awards season for many different media, it can be hard to keep up. The PEN Translates list, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Nero Book Awards, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the Yoto Carnegies, the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Forward Prize, the Bread & Roses Award for left-wing non-fiction, the Klaus Flugge Prize for picture books, the Bread & Circuses Award for satire, the Catch-22 Award which none of the longlistees can win… OK, a couple of those are made up but you get the idea: there is a lot to celebrate.

That the inaugural Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction has announced its longlist is one such cause for celebration. (That it is 2024 and only the first year of this award and that it is much needed may also be cause for despair but I choose the former.) The full list – all linked below – is wide-ranging, raising the profile of sixteen excellent writers with expertise in history, science, art and nature.

These newsletters have previously championed: Matrescence, Lucy Jones’s exploration of the ways in which motherhood changes a person physically, mentally and socially; All That She Carried, Tiya Miles’s history of an enslaved woman and her daughter, Rose and Ashley; Thunderclap, Laura Cumming’s study of Dutch art interwoven with personal memoir; Doppelganger, Naomi Klein’s wild journey into the mirror world triggered by people mistaking her for the, very different, Naomi Wolf; A Flat Place, Noreen Masud’s contemplation of flat landscapes and intricate look at her own complex PTSD; Eve, Cat Bohannon’s extraordinary scientific account of the evolution of female bodies.

As I say, lots to celebrate. I particularly wanted to mention the following titles, some of which are newly published and some of which had escaped my notice. Thus, the prize is indeed working and my reading list has grown even longer…

How To Say Babylon: A Jamaican Memoir by Safiya Sinclair
Sinclair was raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica, by a father so desperate to “protect” the women in his family that they were allowed to go nowhere but school and have no friends outside the family, and a mother keen to instil some joy in her children’s life through books and poetry. Sinclair tells the story of how she slowly extricated herself from her father’s strict grasp and of her realisation, once she did, of why her father was so frightened for his young black daughters.

Some People Need Killing: A Memoir of Murder in the Philippines by Patricia Evangelista
Under the regime of Rodrigo Duterte and in the name of his war on drugs, thousands of extra-judicial killings were carried out. Evangelista bears witness to these, chronicles the myriad deaths and their effect on every part of Filipino society and explores how the trauma of doing so shaped her as a journalist.

Shadows At Noon: The South Asian Twentieth Century by Joya Chatterji
Beginning as a veritable and enjoyable dash through South Asian history from the Raj to Modi’s India today, Shadows At Noon then offers a series of essays on food, leisure, culture, the household and nationhood asking how South Asia polarised into three nations and what Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have in common whilst celebrating the diversity of the sub-continent.

Intervals by Marianne Brooker
When Marianne Brooker’s mother was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she threw herself into activism and creativity. As her condition became dramatically worse she was forced to stop and eventually gave up eating and drinking too, determined to die at home. Brooker explores the question of how to be a good daughter in such circumstances and how to offer good care and choice at the end.

I expect there is something for everyone on the longlist but if not perhaps the Klaus Flugge award is more your speed

May your weekend be full of writing from and conversations with diverse voices. (And really good coffee too. It’s fourth cup time here in the Heronry.)