The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by author Neil Griffiths with £2,000 of his own money to celebrate “small presses producing brilliant and brave literary fiction” in the UK and Ireland. Small presses being defined as having fewer than five full-time employees. The first Prize was awarded in 2017 to John Keene’s ‘Counternarratives’ (Fitzcarraldo Editions) and subsequent winners have been Eley Williams’ ‘Attrib. and Other Stories’ (Influx Press) in 2018, Will Eaves for ‘Murmur’ (CB Editions) in 2019, Jean-Baptiste Del Amo took home the prize for ‘Animalia’ in 2020, translated by Frank Wynne (Fitzcarraldo Editions), 201 Jacaranda Books took the main gong for ‘Lote” by Shola von Reinhold and last year Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s ‘Happy Stories, Mostly’, translated by Tiffany Tsao (Tilted Axis Press) won the award.
Earlier this week the longlist for the 2022 Prize was announced. Here are those books (listed alphabetically by publisher as the Prize has chosen to do, with the blurbs directly from the publisher):
John Smith ‘Little Boy’ (Boiler House Press)
‘He began to understand that his present life was not a life at all, but something that had to be endured before a life could commence. It was as though he was before a window, and could see life, but could not touch it. What he needed, he thought, was to be given the opportunity to live. For he would do great things, he thought, when he had the opportunity.’
It is 1935 and a small boy is found in a mine in what is known as the Belgian Congo. It is a time of ferment; nefarious forces are at play. Against this backdrop, the boy’s discovery draws the attention of men of distinction across the globe – scientists, politicians and army men. Soon enough a race begins to bring the boy into safe custody. After a tortuous journey by train through the continent of Africa, the boy travels by ship to New York, where he is taken into the care of the United States Army. From here our diminutive hero will become swept up in a narrative not of his own making, a narrative that will lead him into the heart of one of the most devastating events of the twentieth century.
Yewande Omotoso ‘An Unusual Grief’ (Cassava Republic)
How do you get to know your daughter when she is dead?
This is the question which takes a mother on a journey of self-discovery. When her daughter Yinka dies, Mojisola is finally forced to stop running away from the difficulties in their relationship, and also come to terms with Yinka the woman. Mojisola’s grief leads her on a journey of self-discovery, as she moves into her daughter’s apartment and begins to unearth the life Yinka had built for herself there, away from her family.
Through stepping into Yinka’s shoes, Mojisola comes to a better understanding not only of her estranged daughter, but also herself, as she learns to carve a place for herself in the world beyond the labels of wife and mother. A bold and unflinching tale of one women’s unconventional approach to life and loss.
Missouri Williams ‘The Doloriad’ (Dead Ink)
In the wake of a mysterious environmental cataclysm that has wiped out the rest of humankind, a family descended from incest cling to existence on the edges of a ruined city. The family is mercilessly ruled by The Matriarch who dreams of starting humanity over. Her children and the children they have with one another aren’t so sure. Surrounded by the silent forest and the dead suburbs, they feel closer to the ruined world than to their parents. Nevertheless, they scavenge supplies, collect fuel, plant seeds, and attempt to cultivate the poisoned earth, brutalizing and caring for one another in equal measure.
When The Matriarch dreams of another group of survivors she sends away one of her daughters, the legless Dolores, as a marriage offering. Her return triggers the breakdown of The Matriarch’s fragile order and the control she wields over their sprawling family begins to weaken. The children seize their chance to escape with terrible and lasting consequences.
Fatima Daas ‘The Last One’ (Small Axes, Hope Road)
The youngest daughter of Algerian immigrants, Fatima Daas is raised in a home where love and sexuality are considered taboo and signs of affection avoided. Living in the majority-Muslim Clichy-sous-Bois, she often spends more than three hours a day on public transport to and from the city, where she feels like a tourist observing Parisian manners. She goes from unstable student to maladjusted adult, doing four years of therapy – her longest relationship. But as she gains distance from her family and comes into her own, she grapples more directly with her attraction to women and how it fits with her religion, which she continues to practice. When Nina comes into her life, she doesn’t know exactly what she needs but feels that something crucial has been missing.
Eva Ďurovec ‘New Mindmapping Forms’ (Montez)
There is a story about a meatball which comes out of nowhere, hitting some people’s heads and changing their lives forever. There is a mouse that gets caught while trying to find a cheesy snack. There has been a 100% increase in the cost of rent in Berlin in the past 10 years and no increase in my wages. A bag full of basmati rice. A teacher stuck at work waiting for students stuck at work. There is the price one pays to purchase organic underwear so that their intimate parts are not stifled from nine hours in the office chair. There are 10 missed calls from my mother. There are places to which one cannot return and cities where it is impossible to live. There are fertility treatments that send fish oil straight into the veins two days before and two days after ovulation. The feeling of a needle in the middle of the uterus, which could be due to pregnancy, or due to fear. There is a Master’s thesis which is no Master’s thesis. There is a book that was not intended to be published, that was not intended to be read.
Zoë Wicomb ‘Still Life’ (Peninsula Press)
Still Life juggles with our perception of time and reality as Wicomb tells the story of an author struggling to write a biography of long-forgotten Scottish poet and abolitionist Thomas Pringle. In her efforts to resurrect Pringle, the writer summons the spectre of Mary Prince, the West Indian slave whose History Pringle had once published, along with Hinza, his adopted black South African son.
As these voices vie for control over the text and the lines between life-writing and fiction-making begin to blur, a third voice enters the chorus: Virginia Woolf’s very own Sir Nicholas Green, self-regarding poet and character from Orlando. Their adventures through time and space, from Victorian South Africa and London to the author’s desk in Glasgow in the present day, offer a poignant exploration of colonial history and racial oppression.
Nate Lippens ‘My Dead Book’ (Pilot Press)
My Dead Book is a novel composed of nonlinear vignettes and fragments about a queer man approaching his fiftieth birthday who is haunted by insomnia and his past. In the dead of night, he remembers his friends who died in the late 1980s and 1990s, his years as a teenage throwaway and sex worker, and ruminates on working class survival, queer aging, AIDS, and whether he has outlived his place in the world.
Sheena Patel ‘I’m A Fan’ (Rough Trade Books)
In I’m A Fan a single speaker uses the story of their experience in a seemingly unequal, unfaithful relationship as a prism through which to examine the complicated hold we each have on one another. With a clear and unforgiving eye, the narrator unpicks the behaviour of all involved, herself included, and makes startling connections between the power struggles at the heart of human relationships and those of the wider world, in turn offering a devastating critique of access, social media, patriarchal heteronormative relationships, and our cultural obsession with status and how that status is conveyed.
SJ Fowler ‘MUEUM’ (Tenement Press)
A novella of ludic menace, a puzzle without pieces, SJ Fowler’s MUEUM pictures the amassing and dismantling of a public edifice, brick by brick, in prose that refracts and breaks the light emitted by history’s ornaments and history’s omissions.
Suspended in unknowable time there is a city; in the city, an event, a conflict. Amid the ash, fog and cloud, there is the manufacturing of a space—a many-winged museum on the make. On the plinths, exquisite remnants of life present and past—adorning the walls, portraits of gentle torture sit hand in hand with brutal and statuesque portrayals of camaraderie—and the gift-shop is littered with plastic curios and gilt revulsion.
Goya, as atmosphere rather than artwork, hovers amid iron age ghosts, bronzed ideas, and antiqued anxiety.
Pacing the hall, atrium and corridor, there are those who keep the museum—the various midwives to the building’s demands—and those, like the reader, who merely visit; those who pass through the vacant galleries adrift with questions. What can I touch? What is next to Egypt? What is hidden in Mesopotamia? Where do we eat? Drink? Where is the entrance? The exit?
Following the tradition of the Nestbeschmutzer authors (“one who dirties their own nest,” vis-à-vis Bernhard and Gombrowicz, et al), in Fowler’s curt, spiralling, and acute work, the museum’s keepers will answer.
Thuân ‘Chinatown’ (translated by Nguyên An Ly) (Tilted Axis Press)
The Métro shudders to a halt: an unattended bag has been found. For the narrator, a Vietnamese woman teaching in the Parisian suburbs, a fantastical interior monologue begins, looking back to her childhood in early ‘80s Hanoi, university studies in Leningrad, and the travails and ironies of life in France as an immigrant and single mother.
But most of all she thinks of Chinese-Vietnamese Thụy, who she married in the aftermath of the Sino-Vietnamese war, much to her parents’ disapproval, and whom she has not seen now for eleven years. The mystery around his disappearance feeds her memories, dreams and speculations, in which the idea of Saigon’s Chinatown looms large. There’s even a novel-in-progress, titled I’m Yellow, whose protagonist’s attempts to escape his circumstances mirror the author-narrator’s own.
Interspersed with extracts from I’m Yellow, the narrator’s book-length monologue is an attempt, at once desperate, ironic, and self-deprecating, to come to terms with the passions that haunts her.
This year’s judges are Isabel Waidner, Vanessa Onwuemezi and Lamora Ash. At present to prizemoney is £5,000 for the five shortlisted books (£1,000 for each press), however this may change if a donor gives a further £10,000 as they’ve committed to. I’ve only read ‘Chinatown’ by Thuân, which I thoroughly enjoyed, as always I will be hunting down a few more of the titles on this longlist.
One thought on “2023 Republic of Consciousness Prize Longlist”
An interesting prize.
I haven’t read any of them, but I did try last year’s winner. Let’s just say I didn’t get on with it so I didn’t finish it.
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