The Folio Prize

The Folio PrizeThe Folio Prize aims to recognise and celebrate the best English-language fiction from around the world, published in the UK during a given year, regardless of form, genre or the author's country of origin. It is the first major English-language book prize open to writers from all over the world and it's sponsored by none other than The Folio Society. The Uncustomary Book Review happened to be working with The Folio Society around the time The Folio Prize inaugural shortlist was announced, so we took the chance to learn more about the prestigious award.

What is The Folio Prize Academy?

The Folio Prize is an independent organization from The Folio Society. The Folio Prize Academy, in turn, is an international group of people, primarily writers and critics, who are immersed in the world of books. It discovers and promotes excellence in writing, encouraging people to put great literature at the centre of their lives.

The Academy plays a decisive role in selecting titles to be considered for the shortlist for The Folio Prize, and each year the judges will be drawn from its number.

Who are the judges representing the Academy this year?

Lavinia Greenlaw (Chair) is a poet, novelist and critic. Her awards include a NESTA Fellowship, a Wellcome Fellowship, France’s Prix du Premier Roman Etranger, and the 2011 Ted Hughes Award. Her latest book is A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde.

Michael Chabon is an acclaimed and bestselling novelist and essayist whose major works include the 2001 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Sarah Hall has won numerous awards for her books, including the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel, the 2006/07 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tiptree Jr. Award and a Lakeland Book of the Year prize.

Nam Le’s first book, The Boat, translated into fourteen languages, received over a dozen major awards in Australia, America, and Europe, and was selected as a book of the year by over thirty publications around the world.

Pankaj Mishra won the LA Times Art Seidenbaum award for First Fiction for The Romantics: A Novel, and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2013 for From the Ruins of Empire. This January, he received the prestigious Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding.

The expertise and experience of these Academicians reflects The Folio Prize’s aim to encourage a consistent focus on excellence. Lots were drawn by The Literature Prize Foundation, until the panel consisted of no more than three members of the same gender, with three judges based in the UK and two internationally. Writers and critics are invited to join the Academy by the Foundation, supported by The Folio Prize Advisory Committee. There are currently 187 members of the Academy. Members of the Academy can nominate up to three titles, each from which the top sixty books are put forward to the judges. Publishers are then invited to write to the judges in support of up to five titles not selected through the nomination process and from these the judges select a further twenty titles. The judges read a total of eighty titles. Books published in the UK during the 2013 calendar year are eligible for the inaugural Prize.

What hallmarks of excellence must the first winner of The Folio Prize possess?

The aim of The Folio Prize is simple: to celebrate the best fiction of our time and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.

The sole criterion for judgment will be excellence: to identify works of fiction in which the story being told and the subjects being explored achieve their most perfect and thrilling expression.

What will the inaugural winner of the first Folio Prize be awarded?

The winner will be presented with a cheque for £40,000 ($65,776 U.S. dollars) at a ceremony at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel on March 10, 2014.

On February 10, 2014, the judges of The Folio Prize announced the much-anticipated inaugural shortlist. Here are the well-deserving eight:


Red Doc> by Anne Carson

Schroder by Amity Gaige

Last Friends by Jane Gardam

Benediction by Kent Haruf

The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Tenth of December by George Saunders


Announcing the shortlist, Lavinia Greenlaw, Chair of the judges said:

“From its inception, the emphasis of the Folio Prize has been on the relationship between good writing and good reading. The Prize makes an unapologetic assertion about the value of experience and expertise, and the high expectations that come from spending much of your life investigating and testing language and form.

“I was delighted, and also daunted, to be asked to chair the inaugural Prize. I knew none of my fellow judges before we started and yet as soon as we started it became clear that we could proceed with the confidence and understanding of those who have worked together for years.

“Our experience of reading 80 books over five months was full of surprises, challenges, frustrations, provocations, regrets, and delights. The shortlist we’ve arrived at is one of which we’re proud. Our deliberations were long and intense. We forgot about the authors and focused on the books. Only when we surfaced with our chosen eight in hand did we reflect on what they collectively represent: the art of fiction at full stretch and in all its forms, and the ingenious and dazzling results of form under exquisite pressure.

“Our final choice will be extremely difficult. Each one of these eight titles would be a worthy winner of a prize dedicated to celebrating the best of fiction as it is now being written.”

Andrew Kidd, Founder of The Folio Prize says:

“It was my great privilege to sit in on the meetings of the inaugural Folio Prize judges. Their brief was simple: what, in their view, were the most exciting and outstanding English language books to appear in the last year? They were asked to disregard nationality, ethnicity, gender and lifetime achievement and to concentrate solely on the words on the pages in front of them. Thrillingly, that's exactly what they did.

“As a result of putting together an academy of authors and critics, of people who live and breathe books, 80 works of fiction were given the most rigorous, careful, and generous sounding any author could wish for. The result is a shortlist of eight amazing books that range from classical narrative to prose poetry; from a ‘messy masterpiece’ to a collection of effectively flawless short stories. It’s a list that ticks no boxes, balances the interests of no constituencies and will no doubt stir all kinds of debate. In the end it is, quite simply, the eight books that in the collective view of five brilliant readers were the best pieces of storytelling of 2013.”

Toby Hartwell, MD of The Folio Society, Sponsor of The Folio Prize says:

“At The Folio Society, we are passionate champions of great books, in both content and form; the very best writing of the past presented in the most beautiful editions that will be treasured for future generations. In sponsoring The Folio Prize, our hope was that we could continue this tradition of excellence and uncover the best fiction of our time—books that will be read and reread and admired for decades to come, much as great books from the past are revered. This outstanding shortlist confirms that The Folio Prize will abundantly deliver this ambition.

“At The Folio Society, we debate and discuss at length which novels are worthy of presentation in a Folio Society edition each year. I know that our illustrious judges have applied the same rigour and passion to narrowing down The Folio Academy's original nominations. I don't envy their task in choosing a winner of the inaugural award of The Folio Prize on March 10th.”

FPFF-logo-external-sponsorToby Hartwell also announced that The Folio Society will sponsor a new initiative—The Folio Prize Fiction Festival, in partnership with the British Library—on the weekend of the 8-9 March. The festival, taking place at the British Library, will feature The Folio Prize judges, shortlisted authors and members of the Folio Prize Academy. The programme is organised around the five elements that lie at the heart of great fiction and our appreciation of it: Form, Voice, Structure, Place, and Context. Together the judges and their guest Academicians—who include A.S. Byatt, Sebastian Faulks, Mark Haddon, Andrew O’Hagan, and Ali Smith—will examine how each element is essential to those books that stimulate and stay with us.


Over the years, what has been the nature of your relationship with the British Library?

British LibraryFor seven years running, The Folio Society has sponsored The Folio Society Gallery at the British Library which houses exhibits of all kinds. Our members receive ticket offers/promotions to British Library exhibitions/previews and launch parties.

In addition to the British Library, The Folio Society has strong partnerships with a number of cultural institutions with whom we collaborate on member events and reciprocal marketing promotions and retail opportunities. In England, these include the British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, and the Royal Geographical Society. We are also main sponsors of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Oxford Literary Festival and this year, for the first time, The Hay Festival of Literature & the Arts. In the States, we recently participated in the Brooklyn Book Festival and were a debut sponsor of the Boston Book Festival.

A special thanks...

We thank The Folio Society, and in particular Toby Hartwell, Managing Director; Sheri Gee, Senior Art Director; Johanna Geary, Managing Editor; Jean-Marc Rathé, Brand Director; Simon Toombs, Head of Business Development; and Finn Campbell-Notman, Illustrator for their contributions.

1 Comment

  1. Teta Bombardieri says:

    We need to encourage great literature nowdays …
    Long life to The Folio Society !

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