Spoken word poet Joelle Taylor has won the Polari book prize for her collection which “defends our right to walk without fear, wear what we choose, be who we uniquely are”.
C+nto & Othered Poems, which explores the UK’s underground lesbian culture, was named the winner of the £2,000 prize, which is the top award in the UK’s only dedicated awards for LGBTQ+ literature. It is the second major award for the book, which won the TS Eliot prize earlier this year.
The Polari first book prize was awarded to Adam Smith’s debut Deep Sniff, a book about the history of poppers and their role in queer life.
Journalist and author Paul Burston, who founded the prizes, said that both books “pay tribute to vital parts of LGBTQ+ cultural history which are all too often overlooked.
“These are books as battle cries, as triumphs over adversity, as shamelessly gay gossip and the pursuit of pleasure in spite of all the heartaches of the past,” he added.
C+nto & Othered Poems started as a spoken-word poem about butch lesbian counterculture. Taylor’s years of partying and protesting in London inspired the book, and in an interview with the Guardian she said that “while it was a very oppressive time, it galvanised us and brought us all together”.
Diana Souhami, who won the 2021 prize and was a judge this year, said that Taylor has a “Midas touch with words”.
“C+nto will open eyes, hearts and minds,” she added. “Here is poetry that defends our right to walk without fear, wear what we choose, be who we uniquely are.”
Kate Kellaway, reviewing the book in the Observer, said it is “a passionate reconjuring of 1980s-90s butch lesbian counterculture in London”.
Smith wins £1,000 for the first book prize, for a book Burston – who served as chair of judges for the Polari prize on both panels – said was “a witty, well researched and ground breaking book which honours our queer past while also looking to the future”.
The first book prize was judged by author Rachel Holmes, poets Keith Jarrett and Sophia Blackwell and 2021 prize winner Mohsin Zaidi.
The overall prize was judged by author VG Lee, literary critic Suzi Feay, Chris Gribble of the National Centre for Writing and Souhami.
The inaugural Polari children’s & YA prize was won by Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew.
The book is about a merman called Nen who ventures to the forbidden world above and meets Ernest, a lonely fisherman.
Author and chair of the judges for the prize, Jodie Lancet-Grant, said the book “does something important and radical by centring a queer love story in a picture book for young children”.
“The story is innovative and moving, and the artwork truly stunning,” she added. The winners were announced in a ceremony held at the British Library.