The Folio prize, the literary award that was established in the wake of criticism of the Booker and suspended last year when its sponsor dropped out, has announced that it will be returning in 2017 and expanding its focus to include non-fiction.
The award’s director said that this was because “readers are less and less interested in the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction”, and that the change in focus would mean it would become “the only major literary prize to reward what is genuinely the best book of the year”.
The Folio prize was established in 2011 after the literary establishment rounded on the judges of that year’s Man Booker award, who overlooked novels by major names to shortlist a collection of novels that one judge said “zipped along”. The award set out to “offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of these expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition”, stating that “for many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) prize. But as numerous statements by that prize’s administrator and this year’s judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of ‘readability’ over artistic achievement.”
After landing sponsorship from the Folio Society of £40,000, the prize, open to English-language fiction from around the world, was won by George Saunders and Akhil Sharma in 2014 and 2015. Last September, organisers announced that it would be suspended for a year while a new sponsor was sought.
Now the award’s new director, Minna Fry, has let the Folio Academy, the international group of writers and critics who put forward titles to be considered for the prize’s shortlist, know about the changes planned for the next year. Readers, she said, want “books that enrich and enhance lives, in whatever form they come”.
“If anyone asks you which book they absolutely must take on holiday or give for Christmas, you probably think of the book that has made you see the world in a different way, or taught you things you never knew, or just made you marvel at the brilliant creative expression of a fellow writer. In the end, all that really matters is that a book should be wholly realised, be it real or imaginary. The distinction doesn’t matter to readers. So why should it matter to our prize?” she wrote to the Folio Academy.
From the Costa, which only features non-fiction in the form of biography, to the Booker and the Baileys, which reward fiction, no literary award currently cuts across genres, Fry said. “None can claim to reward what is ultimately the best work of literature to have been published in a given year. So that’s what we are now going to do,” she wrote in her email, adding that the prize would be going ahead next year “even if we haven’t yet secured a full-scale corporate sponsor”.
She said this morning that the responses from the academy, which numbers over 200 writers, had largely been positive. “Everyone is keen on the change in focus,” she said. “It’s important – I think these kinds of books need to be rewarded … It seemed to me redundant to have a single-genre prize for the best high literature.”