Margo Jefferson wins 2023 Rathbones Folio prize

Mar 28, 2023
Dimitris Passas

NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: The Guardian (by Sarah Shaffi).

Critic and author Margo Jefferson has won the 2023 Rathbones Folio prize for her memoir, described by the judges as “astounding and rhapsodic”.

Jefferson’s Constructing a Nervous System is the first winner of the prize’s new structure, in which three category prizes are awarded, with the overall winner being chosen from these.

Constructing a Nervous System won the nonfiction category, while the fiction award was won by Michelle de Kretser for Scary Monsters. The poetry prize was taken by Victoria Adukwei Bulley for her debut collection Quiet.

The category winners each receive £2,000, with Jefferson getting an additional £30,000 for winning the overall award.

At the ceremony it was also announced that the prize is looking for new sponsorship, as Rathbones has decided to step down following seven years as sponsor.

In Constructing a Nervous System, Jefferson – who won the Pulitzer prize for criticism in 1995 – explores Black womanhood through an examination of the pop culture icons she grew up with, and combines memoir and criticism. Reviewing the book in the Observer, Abhrajyoti Chakraborty said it was “impossible not to be stirred by her odes to fellow black American strivers of excellence”.

The judges for the prize are chosen from the members of the Folio Academy, and this year’s panel was made up of authors Ali Smith, Jackie Kay and Guy Gunaratne.

They said Constructing a Nervous System was “wholly a deeply moving delight” and a “book unlike any other; a thrilling, generous, spirited and surprising read that remakes culture, redresses history, renews and repurposes everything it touches, and passes on these gifts of reinvention and renewal to everyone who’ll read it.”

The other shortlisted books in the nonfiction category were Will Ashon’s The Passengers, Amy Bloom’s In Love, Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist and Darren McGarvey’s The Social Distance Between Us.

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