The longlist for The Portico Prize for Literature – the UK’s only award for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North – has been announced, with 17 titles from 10 independent publishers making the list. 

Once described as ‘the Booker of the North’, the £10,000 Prize is open to literature across the formats of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

The prize was established in 1985 by Manchester’s Portico Library to celebrate the strong regional and literary identity of the North and raise awareness of its historical, cultural and literary heritage. This year it announced a new partnership with the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Helen Mort (C) Jan Bella

Of the eight fiction titles on the list, four are debut novels: Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who moves to London; Ironopolis by Glen James Brown, set on a fictional council estate in post-industrial Middlesbrough; Black Car Burning, a love letter to Helen Mort’s home town of Sheffield; and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe, inspired by the life of Bradford playwright, Andrea Dunbar.

The four further fiction titles on the list are: The Look Away by musician and poet Richard Skelton; The Mating Habit of Stags by Ray Robinson, a reflective novel set in the moors of North Yorkshire; The One who Wrote Destiny, a powerful novel about a young Kenyan trying to adjust to life in ‘60s North Yorkshire by Nikesh Shukla; and 2020, Kenneth Steven’s examination of life as it might be in 2020. 

Ray Robinson

In non-fiction, Ben Myers, joint-winner of the 2015 Portico Prize, returns with Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place, an investigation into nature, literature, history, memory and the meaning of place in modern Britain.

In Long Road from Jarrow, writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie pieces together local and regional history at the time of the Jarrow March with the state of Britain today; and in Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Angela Steidele captivates the reader with her admirable and comprehensive research into the life of history’s first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack

The longlist also includes two memoirs – Lowborn, Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns by Kerry Hudson, and The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney – and one graphic memoir: Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide by Kate Charlesworth.

Kerry Hudson – photo: Mark Vessey

Two debut collections of poetry feature on the longlist, from poets both based in Hebden Bridge: Zebra, by Ian Humphreys, about exploration, observation and acceptance; and Us in which Zaffar Kunial explores the convolutions of identity.

Michael Symmons Roberts, the award-winning poet who was shortlisted for the Portico Prize in 2015, presents a collection of poetry inspired by Manchester in Mancunia. 

A shortlist of six books will be selected by a panel of judges, chaired by journalist and broadcaster Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads. He is joined by Didsbury actress Holliday Grainger, stand-up poet Kate Fox, author Zahid Hussain, and Jean Sprackland, professor of creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“What a fantastic and varied list!” said Simon.

“I’m really looking forward to getting lost in all things northern; reading and discussing these books over the coming months and seeing how they each evoke ‘the spirit of the north’.

“I already have a feeling that making a shortlist is going to be a tough job.”

The shortlist will be announced on 26th November, and the winner will be announced at a ceremony at The Portico Library in Manchester on 23rd January 2020.

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