Gordon Burn Prize 2021


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 £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.

The 2021 prize was judged by Denise Mina (Chair), Derek Owusu, Irenosen Okojie and Sian Cain.

2021 Shortlist

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Sam Byers
Come Join Our Disease

This darkly comic novel about resistance, radicalism and redemption explores themes of society, illness and isolation. Maya is homeless and, when her site is razed by the authorities, she’s detained. Maya is given a lifeline when a tech company looking to enhance its profile offers her a job and somewhere to live. The only condition is that Maya must document her progress on Instagram to show that anyone can be productive and perfect. Yet Maya realises that sickness is a kind of revolution. With other outcasts, Maya starts a movement: billboards promoting wellness are defaced all over London and her media feed is flooded with obscene, filthy and provocative images.

Sam Byers’ debut novel Idiopathy was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize and was the winner of a Betty Trask Award. His second novel, Perfidious Albion was longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, and shortlisted for the Encore Prize.

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Doireann Ní Ghríofa
A Ghost in the Throat

Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s hybrid of essay and autofiction weaves together the stories of two women living in different times. In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem that reaches across the centuries. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy in her own life. The poem becomes an obsession for her as she sets out to discover the full story behind it. A Ghost in the Throat charts the ways in which a life can be changed by a work of art created centuries before.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual writer whose books explore birth, death, desire, and domesticity. Her awards include a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Seamus Heaney Fellowship and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

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Hanif Abdurraqib
A Little Devil in America

In this exhilarating and profound series of essays, Hanif Abdurraqib delivers a meditation on Black performance in the modern age that reaches back through the lives of musicians, cultural figures, history and his own life. In rhythmic prose, Abdurraqib peels away layers of resonance in Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and his own personal history of love and grief – whether it’s the twenty-seven seconds of ‘Gimme Shelter’ in which Merry Clayton sings, or the magnificent hours of Aretha Franklin’s homegoing; Beyoncé’s Super Bowl half-time show or a schoolyard fistfight; Dave Chapelle’s skits or a game of spades among friends.

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was named a book of the year by The Los Angeles Review and Chicago Tribune, among others. His previous book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list.

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Jenni Fagan

Jenni Fagan’s third novel is the story of 10 Luckenbooth Close, an archetypal Edinburgh tenement. Luckenbooth begins in 1910 when the devil’s daughter rows to the shores of Leith in a coffin. The harrowing events that follow lead to a curse on the building and its residents – a curse that will last for the rest of the century. Over nine decades, 10 Luckenbooth Close bears witness to emblems of a changing world outside its walls. An infamous madam, a famous Beat poet and a coal miner who fears daylight are amongst the residents whose lives are plagued by the building’s troubled history.

Jenni Fagan is an award-winning novelist, poet, screenwriter, and playwright. She is the author of two previous novels, The Panopticon and The Sunlight Pilgrims, as well as a collection of poetry, The Dead Queen of Bohemia. She lives in Edinburgh.

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Salena Godden
Mrs Death Misses Death

Mrs Death, a Black, working-class woman with the ability to shape-shift, is given the chance to tell her story in this absorbing novel. Exhausted from spending eternity doing her job, an exasperated Mrs Death is seeking an opportunity to unburden her conscience when she comes across Wolf Willeford. Wolf is a troubled young writer who thinks he already knows Death until he finally meets her. Enthralled by her stories, Wolf becomes Mrs Death’s scribe, and begins to write her memoirs. As the two reflect on the losses they have experienced, their friendship grows into a surprising affirmation of hope, resilience and love.

Salena Godden is a high-profile poet based in London. She’s an activist, broadcaster, essayist and memoirist whose work has been widely anthologised. In November 2020 she was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.

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Tabitha Lasley
Sea State

Emerging from a destructive relationship, Tabitha Lasley leaves her job as a magazine journalist and moves from London to Aberdeen to research a book about the oil industry and the men who work on the rigs. As Lasley immerses herself in offshore culture and adapts to Aberdeen’s harsh climate, she is increasingly drawn inside the lives of the people she is writing about, blurring the boundaries between author and subject. When she begins a relationship with a married rig worker, she falls into an intense and potentially dangerous personal journey that pulls her even deeper into the subculture around her. Sea State is a fluidly written, dramatic and insightful memoir.

Tabitha Lasley was a journalist for ten years. She has lived in London, Johannesburg and Aberdeen. This is her first book.

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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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