‘Hugely enjoyable’ account of gay women who helped change the course of their culture wins £2,000 prize for LGBTQ+ books
Last modified on Sat 30 Oct 2021 21.01 BST
No Modernism Without Lesbians by Diana Souhami has won the 2021 Polari prize for LGBTQ+ books. The account of a group of gay women who helped to begin the modernist movement was called “richly researched, entertaining and hugely enjoyable” by judge and CEO of the National Centre for Writing, Chris Gribble. It offers “insight into the lives, passions and legacies of a group of outstanding women who together helped change the course of their culture”, he added. “Souhami is a brilliant guide and this book a celebration, corrective and fillip all in one.”
Souhami, who has been awarded the £2,000 prize in a ceremony at London’s Southbank Centre, has previously written biographies of prominent queer creatives Radclyffe Hall and Gluck, as well as a book about Gertrude Stein’s relationship with Alice B Toklas. Stein also features in No Modernism Without Lesbians, presented alongside Sylvia Beach, Bryher and Natalie Barney as a trailblazer of the 20th century’s emerging art form.
Also announced at Saturday’s event was the Polari First Book prize, which has this year been awarded to criminal barrister Mohsin Zaidi for his memoir A Dutiful Boy. Already a Guardian, New Statesman and GQ book of the year, this debut recounts the author’s experience of growing up gay in a devout Muslim household and being in denial about his sexuality.
Writer and judge Rachel Holmes said: “In these days of deliberately stoked culture wars Mohsin Zaidi deftly engages us with the harsh, hilarious and inherently human realities of multiple identity. With painful honesty, he shows how no community of class, race, faith or queerness is immune from suspicion and occasional hatred of otherness, nor mercifully from love, laughter and acceptance.”
Zaidi has beaten Booker winner Douglas Stuart to take home the £1,000 prize, as well as the other shortlisted authors Tomasz Jędrowski, Andreena Leeanne, Kevin Maxwell and Paul Mendez.
Shortlisted for the overall prize alongside No Modernism Without Lesbians were Dragman by Steven Appleby, The Air Year by Caroline Bird, The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore, What Girls Do in the Dark by Rosie Garland and The Ministry of Guidance by Golnoosh Nour.
The Polari prizes are open to books of any genre that explore the LGBTQ+ experience. The Polari literary salon, which hosts the awards, was founded by author and journalist Paul Burston in 2007. Its name comes from the slang dialect gay men used to covertly communicate with each other before male homosexuality was legalised.
Last year Kate Davies won the Polari prize for In at the Deep End, while Amrou Al-Kadhi took the first book award for Life As a Unicorn.