The Rathbones Folio Prize 2021 Shortlist

The Rathbones Folio Prize is unique in that nominations come from the Folio Academy, an international group of writers and critics, and any book written in English is eligible, so nonfiction and poetry share space with fiction on the varied shortlist of eight titles:

  • handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press) 
  • Indelicacy by Amina Cain (Daunt Books) 
  • As You Were by Elaine Feeney (Harvill Secker) 
  • Poor by Caleb Femi (Penguin) 
  • My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long (Picador) 
  • In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado (Serpent’s Tail) 
  • A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press)
  • The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press) 

I was delighted to be sent the whole shortlist to feature. I’d already read Rachel Long’s poetry collection and Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir (reviewed here), but I’m keen to start on the rest and will read and review as many as possible before the online prize announcement on Wednesday the 24th. I’m starting with the Baume, Cain, Femi and Roffey.

For more information on the prize, these eight authors, and the longlist, see the website.

(The remainder of the text in this post comes from the official press release.)


The Rathbones Folio Prize — known as the “writers’ prize” — rewards the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form. It is the only award governed by an international academy of distinguished writers and critics, ensuring a unique quality and consistency in the nomination and judging process.

The judges (Roger Robinson, Sinéad Gleeson, and Jon McGregor) have chosen books by seven women and one man to be in contention for the £30,000 prize which looks for the best fiction, non-fiction and poetry in English from around the world. Six out of the eight titles are by British and Irish writers, with three out of Ireland alone (two of which are published by the same publisher, Tramp Press). The spirit of experimentation is also reflected in the strong showing of independent publishers and small presses (five out of eight).

Chair of judges Roger Robinson says: “It was such a joy to spend detailed and intimate time with the books nominated for the Rathbones Folio Prize and travel deep into their worlds. The judges chose the eight books on the shortlist because they are pushing at the edges of their forms in interesting ways, without sacrificing narrative or execution. The conversations between the judges may have been as edifying as the books themselves. From a judges’ vantage point, the future of book publishing looks incredibly healthy – and reading a book is still one of the most revolutionary things that one can do.”

The 2021 shortlist ranges from Amina Cain’s Indelicacy – a feminist fable about class and desire – and the exploration of the estates of South London through poetry and photography in Caleb Femi’s Poor, to a formally innovative, genre-bending memoir about domestic abuse in Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, and a feminist revision of Caribbean mermaid myths, in Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch.

In the darkly comic novel As You Were, poet Elaine Feeney tackles the intimate histories, institutional failures, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland, while Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat finds the eighteenth-century poet Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill haunting the life of a contemporary young mother, prompting her to turn detective. Doireann Ní Ghríofa is published by Dublin’s Tramp Press, also publishers of Sara Baume’s handiwork – which charts the author’s daily process of making and writing, and explores what it is to create and to live as an artist – while poet Rachel Long’s acclaimed debut collection My Darling from the Lions skewers sexual politics, religious awakenings and family quirks with wit, warmth and precision.

My thanks to the publishers and FMcM Associates for the free copies for review.

15 responses

  1. Keen to read handiwork, Indelicacy and A Ghost in the Throat. Such an interesting list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I started handiwork and Indelicacy yesterday evening. I may even try to get to A Ghost in the Throat before the 24th as well. I have a soft spot for prizes that look at multiple genres (the Dylan Thomas, the Wellcome, Young Writer of the Year, etc.).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh no! Not more to read!


  3. I loved both As You Were and A Ghost in the Throat – enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A strong showing from Irish women writers this year! I’ll try to incorporate one or two in a Reading Ireland Month post.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Of these I’ve only read In the Dream House (DIVINE, a top five of 2020) and Indelicacy (kind of not for me, but I can respect the craft). Obviously I have a hard time believing anything could top Dream House, but I’m interested in Poor and A Ghost in the Throat particularly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Machado is superb, one of my best reads of last year. I’m so pleased to own a copy now. I agree it will be hard for anything to beat it, but I’m trying to keep an open mind as I work through the rest.


  5. So many shortlists and longlists right now! My Darling from the Lions is also on the Jhalak Prize LL, so I’m interested to check that one out. The Machado has been on my TBR list for some time and the Roffey is my book group pick this month (might have prodded that one along a little!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, they all come out at once! It’s probably for the best that the Dylan Thomas Prize isn’t doing review copies/a blog tour this year, and that I’ve already read seven from the Women’s Prize longlist and have probably ruled out another three from it.

      I didn’t get on with My Darling from the Lions. With poetry it’s often really difficult to explain why; just a style/reader mismatch thing. However, I cannot recommend the Machado more highly. It is that rare thing, a truly groundbreaking memoir. I’m only 20 pages into the Roffey but enjoying it so far. I wanted to read it anyway after its Costa win.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah OK, good to know. I want to read some of the Jhalak Prize LL but as I have only read one of the LL titles so far, I need to be selective.


  6. That’s lovely, to have been sent the entire list to feature: enjoy!

    Didn’t you just find a poem by Rachel Long in two of your recent reads, too? Maybe I’m misremembering the poet’s name.

    Indelicacy has been on my TBR for ages (I’m near the top of the hold list now, but suspended it to focus on some other newer books), and I do want to read the Roffey (which I think we’ve discussed in another comment at some point).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You did indeed see Rachel Long on my Book Serendipity post 🙂 I happen to have read her book from the library, before it got on this shortlist.

      Indelicacy seems like a book you might enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a lovely pile! I am keen to read Poor at some stage, as I lived in South London for a few years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have you read Surge by Jay Bernard? It’s a lot like that.

      Liked by 1 person

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