The UK’s Rathbones Folio Prize, Looking for New Sponsor, Names Its 2023 Winners

In News by Porter Anderson

The American critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson wins the 2023 Rathbones Folio Prize, which is looking for new sponsorship.

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author Margo Jefferson reads from ‘Constructing a Nervous System’ on March 27 at the British Library. She’s the 2023 winner of the Rathbones Folio’s nonfiction and ‘Book of the Year’ honor for that memoir. Image: Rathbones Folio Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

The £30,000 Purse Goes to Margo Jefferson
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, England’s Rathbones Folio Prize in February announced three categories of competition—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—for the winners being announced at a program tonight in London (March 27). Not only the three category winners but an overall “book of the year” prize drawn from those three has been announced in that British Library soiree.

Some attendees, however, may have found more announcements waiting than anticipated. Press representatives of the program have alerted the media that Rathbone Brothers Plc is concluding seven years of sponsorship—two three-year agreements and an additional one-year of sponsorship since 2017. This leaves the program looking for new sponsorship.

We’ll look at the three winners first, and then at the sponsorship question.

The three category wins each pays £2,000 (US$2,457). The winner of the overall prize, the “book of the year” honor, wins £30,000 (US$36,862).

Rathbones Folio Prize Winner 2023 for ‘Book of the Year’ /
Rathbones Folio Prize Winner 2023 in Nonfiction

The US cover art for Margo Jefferson’s book, left, and the UK cover

The American Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author Margo Jefferson, has been named the winner of the nonfiction category and the uber-winner of the program’s “book of the year” honor, for her second memoir, Constructing a Nervous System.

The book is a follow-up to her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Negroland.

Rathbones Folio Prize Winner 2023 in Fiction

The Sri Lanka-born Australian writer Michelle de Kretser has won the fiction honor for her much-recognized Scary Monstersfrom the Australian independent publisher, Allen & Unwin.

Aside from the Rathbones Folio’s attention, this book has been shortlisted by many programs, included the Voss Literary Prize, the New South Wales premier’s literary awards in the multicultural classification, the Kirkus Prize in Australia, and perhaps the most prized in that market, the Miles Franklin Literary Award–which de Kretser won in 2018.

Rathbones Folio Prize Winner 2023 in Poetry

A debut poetry collection, Quiet, the British writer Victoria Adukwei Bulley and published by Faber has been chosen the winner of the poetry category.

Previous contest attention to this work has come in the form of shortlistings for the TS Eliot Prize and the John Pollard International Poetry Prize.

Black interiority, intimacy, and selfhood are interests of Bulley in her first published collection.

The Contest’s Search for New Sponsorship

Media messaging refers to the program being “engaged in active conversations for new sponsorship,” which presents, of course, a positive concept to the idea of needing a new source of the award’s funding. It doesn’t indicate which potential benefactors may be those with whom the program is engaged in what it says are “active conversations.”

And this awards regime has experienced a somewhat uneven pathway to its award presentations tonight.

  • It was previously known as the Literature Prize and the Folio Prize
  • Its visibility on the awards scene was interrupted by a one-year hiatus in 2016
  • With the Rathbone sponsorship, it was able to return to operation in 2017
  • The Rathbones Folio Prize has a fine internationalist stance, in that it can be won by writers anywhere in the world working in English
  • The program also has range in its categorized format: the top honor can go to authors of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry

With a membership of 300 or more writers in its “Folio Academy,” the program prides itself on a mentoring effort, which pairs its members with young, aspiring writers from disadvantaged backgrounds, a program run in association with the charity First Story.

Andrew Kidd, the co-founding chair of the program, is quoted this evening, saying, “Ten years ago this month, we launched the Folio Prize, and we are grateful to the Folio Society for the key role it played in helping us achieve lift off. But it is over the last seven  years—in close partnership with our brilliant sponsor Rathbones—that the prize has really taken flight. Their support has enabled us to shine a light on the most outstanding books published each year—but also to nurture and encourage  the young writers who will produce such books in years to come, through our celebrated Rathbones Folio Mentorships  scheme with First Story.  

“We cannot thank Rathbones enough for the generosity and steadfastness of their sponsorship, in what has proved a  hugely fruitful and enjoyable collaboration. 

“We continue to have great ambitions for the prize and its attendant initiatives. We are already in conversations with  several potential sponsors—and remain open to starting new ones. The ‘writers’ ‘prize’ is unmatched for [the] passion, integrity, and inspiration it brings to everything it does, and there is now a fantastic opportunity for a new sponsor to  join us in creating the exciting next chapter of its story.”

Previous prize winners of Folio awards:

  • Colm Tóibin (fiction) 2022
  • Carmen Maria Machado (nonfiction) in 2021
  • Valeria Luiselli (fiction) in 2020
  • Raymond Antrobus (poetry) in 2019
  • Richard Lloyd-Parry (nonfiction) in 2018
  • Hisham Matar (nonfiction) in 2017
  • Akhil Sharma (fiction) in 2015
  • George Saunders (fiction) in 2014

In the March 27 Rathbones Folio Prize program at the British Library, the winners were, from left, Michelle de Kretser, Margo Jefferson (who also has won ‘Book of the Year’), and Victoria Adukwei Bulley. Image: Rathbones Folio Prize

More from us on the Rathbones Folio Prize is here, more on publishing and book awards in international markets is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.