9-18 October 2020

Gordon Burn Prize 2020


The Gordon Burn Prize was founded in 2012 to celebrate the legacy of the late Gordon Burn and to champion work – fearless non-fiction and bold, genre-defying fiction – that follows in his footsteps.

The Gordon Burn Prize is a partnership between the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Durham Book Festival and Faber & Faber. The winning writer receives a cheque for £5,000 and is offered the opportunity to undertake a writing retreat of up to three months at Gordon Burn’s cottage in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.

This 2020 prize was judged by the poet and writer Anthony Anaxagorou, artist Rachel Howard, broadcaster and journalist Sali Hughes, and writer Richard T Kelly. The 2020 prize was awarded to Peter Pomerantsev for This Is Not Propaganda. For details of the 2021 prize please visit www.gordonburnprize.com.

2020 Shortlist

Jenn Ashworth
Notes Made While Falling

Notes Made While Falling is both a genre-bending memoir and a cultural study of traumatised and sickened selves in fiction and film. It offers a fresh, visceral and idiosyncratic perspective on creativity, spirituality, illness and the limits of fiction itself. At its heart is a story of a disastrously traumatic childbirth, its long aftermath and the out-of-time roots of both trauma and creativity in an extraordinary childhood.

Jenn Ashworth was born in Preston and studied at Cambridge and Manchester. She is the author of the novels A Kind of Intimacy, Cold Light, The Friday Gospels, and Fell. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. Her latest book, Notes Made While Falling, is a memoir told in a series of essays published by Goldsmiths Press. She lectures in creative writing at Lancaster University.

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Paul Mendez
Rainbow Milk

In the 1950s, ex-boxer Norman Alonso moves to the Black Country from Jamaica with his wife to secure a brighter future for themselves and their children. At the turn of the millennium, Jesse seeks a fresh start in London – escaping from a broken immediate family, a repressive religious community and the disempowered Black Country – but finds himself at a loss and turns to sex work to create new notions of love, fatherhood and spirituality.

Paul Mendez was born and raised in the Black Country. He now lives in London and is studying for an MA in Black British Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has been a performing member of two theatre companies and worked as a voice actor. As a writer, he has contributed to the Times Literary Supplement and the Brixton Review of Books. Rainbow Milk is his debut novel.

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Deborah Orr

Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Deborah continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasizing about the day that her mother might come to accept her as good enough. Motherwell is a sharp, candid and often humorous memoir.

Deborah Orr was an award-winning journalist, whose work regularly appeared in the Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Times and in many magazines. She was the first female editor of the Guardian’s Weekend Magazine at the age of thirty. Deborah was a co-creator of ‘Enquirer’, a play commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and shortlisted for new play of the year in the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland.

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Peter Pomerantsev
This is Not Propaganda

When information is a weapon, everyone is at war. We live in a world of influence operations run amok, a world of dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, ISIS, Putin, trolls, Trump. We’ve lost not only our sense of peace and democracy – but our sense of what those words even mean. As Peter Pomerantsev seeks to make sense of the disinformation age, he meets Twitter revolutionaries, ‘behavioural change’ salesmen, Jihadi fan-boys, truth cops, and much more.

Peter Pomersantsev is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at LSE, studying 21s century information manipulation and how to fix it. An author and TV producer, he is a widely-cited expert on disinformation and media and writes for publications including Granta, The Atlantic, Financial Times and many others. His first book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, won the 2016 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.

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Lemn Sissay
My Name is Why

At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth. This is Lemn’s story: a story of neglect and determination, misfortune and hope, cruelty and triumph.

Lemn Sissay is a BAFTA-nominated, award-winning international writer and broadcaster. He has authored collections of poetry and plays. He has been made an Honorary Doctor by the universities of Manchester, Kent, Huddersfield and Brunel. Sissay was awarded an MBE for services to literature and in 2019 he was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. He is Chancellor of the University of Manchester.

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Lisa Taddeo
Three Women

All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with a husband who wouldn’t touch her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher, a hated pariah in her small town? All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband? Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.

Lisa Taddeo spent eight years and thousands of hours tracking the women whose stories comprise Three Women, moving to the towns they lived in to better understand their lives. She has contributed to New York magazine, Esquire, Elle, Glamour and many other publications. Her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes. She lives with her husband and daughter in New England.

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Previous Winners

David Keenan
For the Good Times (2019)

David Keenan grew up in Airdrie in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He is the author of England’s Hidden Reverse and a senior critic at The Wire. His debut novel, This Is Memorial Device, was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn and Collyer Bristow Prizes and was a Book of the Month for Waterstones, Rough Trade and Caught by the River.

David Keenan’s second novel plunges us into the dark night of Belfast in the 1970s: an era of military terrorism and sectarian violence, occult visions and religious intensity. Sammy and his friends enjoy drinking, wearing sharp clothes and the songs of Perry Como, and are uncompromising in what they’ll do to achieve their dream of a Free State. Through modernist prose, roughhouse vernacular and hallucinatory humour, this novel establishes David Keenan as a fearless literary stylist.

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Jesse Ball
Census (2018)

US-based writer Jesse Ball has written more than ten books of prose and poetry, but Census is his first UK publication.

The novel follows a father and son as they travel across a nameless landscape in the wake of the father’s terminal diagnosis. As their story progresses, we discover more about the remarkable boy and his condition, and the love and understanding between a father and his child. Jesse Ball was named a Granta Best of Young American Novelists in 2017.

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Denise Mina
The Long Drop (2017)

Denise Mina has published 12 novels including the Garnethill series, Paddy Meehan and Alex Morrow series.

She has been nominated for many prizes including the CWA Gold Dagger and has won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award twice. In addition to novels, Denise has also written plays and graphic novels including the graphic novel adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In 2014, she was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame and was a judge for the Bailey’s Prize. She has also presented TV and radio programmes as well as appearing regularly in the media. She lives and works in Glasgow.

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David Szalay
All That Man Is (2016)

David Szalay is the author of three previous novels: SpringThe Innocent and London and the South-East, for which he was awarded the Betty Trask and Geoffrey Faber Memorial prizes. In 2013 he was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.

Dan Davies
In Plain Sight (2015)

Dan Davies is a journalist, author and editor with more than twenty years’ experience as a senior staffer and freelance contributor on a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and websites.

Twice shortlisted as BSME Magazine Writer of the Year, he has been Deputy Editor and Acting Editor of Esquire, Editor of Esquire Weekly, a Features Editor at the Mail on Sunday, Deputy Editor of Jack magazine, and a feature writer for the Guardian GuideLive Magazine, The Journal on MrPorter.com and many others.

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Paul Kingsnorth
The Wake (2014)

Paul Kingsnorth is the author of two non-fiction books, One No, Many Yeses and Real England, a collection of poetry, Kidland, and two novels.

His first novel, The Wake, which won the Gordon Burn Prize 2014, was set during the Norman Conquest of England and written entirely in its own language – a version of Old English. Paul is also the co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, an international network of writers, artists and thinkers which aims to challenge the stories our civilisation tells about itself.

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Benjamin Myers
Pig Iron (2013)

Benjamin Myers was born in Durham. His novel Beastings (2014) won the Portico Prize For Literature and a Northern Writers’ Award and was longlisted for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.

Other works include Pig Iron (2012), which won the Gordon Burn Prize 2013 and Richard (2010), a bestseller chosen by the Sunday Times as one of its books of the year. His journalism, non-fiction and poetry have also been widely published. He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire.

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