Our favourite place for indulging in a bit of “polite literature” (their words, written on the wall, as they are), Manchester’s hidden gem The Portico Library this year reintroduced its famous writing award – once described as “the Booker of the North” – after a hiatus of three years (well, maybe one, as it was biennial), and the results are in, or at least the shortlist has been announced.
Under consideration for The Portico Prize was fiction, non-fiction and poetry published between 1 January 2017 and 31 July 2019, with the remit of celebrating “outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North”. The overall winner will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday 23 January, hosted by organisers from the city centre’s Greek Revival-style Library, once frequented by the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell and Emmeline Pankhurst. Prior to that, a celebration of the shortlist will take place the night before at Man Met’s Geoffrey Manton Building, with special readings from each of the authors.
Thursday’s intimate event, held between The Portico Library and The Bank Pub – downstairs and formerly part of the Library – will reunite the building for the first time in 100 years, with food and drinks served at a special reception, building up to the presentation of the award in the historic Library space. The event includes the chance to have your shortlisted book signed by the author.
Celebrating “outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North”… the overall winner will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday 23 January
The six who made the shortlist, in alphabetical order by author, are: Jessica Andrews’ Saltwater, a debut which follows a Sunderland lass to London; Glen James Brown’s post-industrial Middlesbrough-set Ironopolis; memoir The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney; Under The Rock: The Poetry Of A Place by a previous winner of The Portico Prize (in 2015, with Beastings) Benjamin Myers; Yorkshire Moors-set ‘northern noir’ The Mating Habits Of Stags by Ray Robinson, and Adelle Stripe’s Andrea “Rita, Sue and Bob Too” Dunbar-inspired Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile.
The judges picked the final six from a longlist selected by The Portico Prize’s newly formed Society Of Readers And Writers, which includes David Coates of Blackwell’s, Granta poetry editor Rachael Allen, recently seen performing at No Matter, and Qaisra Shahraz, novelist, scriptwriter and founder of MACFEST. This year’s panel of judges was made up of stand-up poet Kate Fox, actor Holliday Grainger – star of 2019’s big-screen adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel Animals – and Zahid Hussain, author of The Curry Mile and newly appointed Chair of the UNESCO Manchester City Of Literature. Chair of Judges is journalist and broadcaster Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads, who says: “This list defies the rumour that it’s grim up North. Yes, it can be gritty up North; yes, it can be gothic up North; but more than anything it’s glorious and great up North.”
The Portico Prize was established in 1985, and previous winning and shortlisted authors have included Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, Anthony Burgess, AS Byatt, Sarah Hall, Hilary Mantel and “Queen of Tartan Noir” Val McDermid. Its resurrection earlier this year was announced as part of a new partnership with the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of the wood-panelled and glass-domed Portico Library in 2020 and the winner will receive £10,000. Not bad.