Jerusalem Ablaze on shortlist for Polari First Book Prize 2017

BY Ashton Bainbridge

The shortlist for the Polari First Book Prize was announced last night at the Polari Literary Salon in London’s Southbank Centre. Now in its seventh year, the Prize is awarded annually to a writer whose first book explores the LGBT experience, whether in poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction.

This year’s shortlist brings together three male and three female writers hailing from Kuwait to Cardiff, whose eclectic body of work offers a range of perspectives on the LGBT experience.

The Polari First Book shortlist 2017 is:

  • Expecting – Chitra Ramaswamy (Saraband)
  • Guapa – Saleem Haddad (Europa Editions UK)
  • We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire – Jules Grant (Myriad)
  • Straight Jacket – Matthew Todd (Bantam)
  • The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise – Crystal Jeans (Honno)
  • Jerusalem Ablaze – Orlando Ortega-Medina (Cloud Lodge)

The 2017 shortlist covers a variety of genre and form including crime fiction, short story and memoir- from Crystal Jean’s 1990s coming of age tale and barrister-turned-author Jules Grant’s female gang thriller, to Saleem Haddad’s depiction of gay life in a post-Arab Spring dictatorship and Chitra Ramaswamy’s refreshingly different meditation on pregnancy.

Chair of judges Paul Burston, said:

“We are delighted with the breadth and strength of the work this year, which spans such a broad range of countries, cultures and experiences. Choosing six books from such a strong long list was extremely difficult. But in the end the judges came up with a shortlist we all agreed upon, and one which reflects the ethos of the prize. These six books are exceptionally well written and wonderfully diverse. Together they contain a wealth of insights about what it means to be LGBT today.”

Judges for the 2017 prize include author, journalist and host of Polari Literary Salon, chair Paul Burston; Rachel Holmes, author and former Head of Literature & Spoken Word at the Southbank; literary critic, Suzi Feay; author and comedian, VG Lee; and playwright, actor and producer, Alexis Gregory.

The overall winner will be revealed at the London Literature Festival on Friday 13th October at the Southbank Centre.

The shortlist announcement at Southbank coincides with a bumper series of events as the Polari Salon celebrates 10 years of championing LGBT voices, with the largest ever LBGT literary tour undertaken in the UK. Beginning in July, it will showcase over 80 writers, including Val McDermid, Matthew Todd and Paul Flynn. Key dates include:

Polari Salon celebrates 10 years of championing LGBT voices with UK-wide tour

Polari 10th anniversary tour:

13 September – Printworks, Hastings

15 September – Lewisham Library

17 September – The Place Theatre, Bedford

22 September – Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

8 October – Birmingham Literature Festival

20 October – Marlborough Theatre, Brighton

2 December – City Library, Newcastle

For further information on the tour, including full dates and event line-ups visit the Polari website.



Guapa by Saleem Haddad (Europa Editions UK)

Set over the course of 24 hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country trying to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and religious upheaval.

Saleem Haddad was born in Kuwait City to a Lebanese-Palestinian father and an Iraqi-German mother, and was educated in Jordan, Canada and the United Kingdom. He has worked as an aid worker in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Iraq. His writing has appeared in Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books and The Daily Beast, among other publications. He currently lives in London.

Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy (Saraband)

When Chitra Ramaswamy discovered she was pregnant, she longed for a book that went above and beyond a manual; a book that did more than describe what was happening in her growing body. Expecting is a book of intimate, strange, wild and lyrical essays that pay tribute to this most extraordinary and ordinary of experiences.

Chitra Ramaswamy is an award-winning journalist, regularly contributing to a number of publications including the Guardian. She often chairs events at festivals and regularly reviews on radio.

We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire by Jules Grant (Myriad)

A refreshing depiction of women in crime fiction, this thrilling novel follows lesbian gangster Donna who runs an all-female gang in Manchester. Unlike the city’s male gangs, caught up in violent turf wars, the women keep their heads down, selling drugs in perfume atomisers in club toilets. That’s until Donna’s best friend Carla is gunned down…

Jules Grant is from Manchester. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College, University of London. She worked as a barrister for over twenty years.

Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd (Bantam)

Part memoir, part ground-breaking polemic, Straight Jacket explores contemporary gay culture and asks if gay people are as happy as they could be. In an attempt to find the answers to this and other difficult questions, Todd explores why statistics show a disproportionate number of gay people suffer from mental health problems, and why significant numbers experience difficulty in sustaining meaningful relationships.

Matthew Todd is editor-at-large at Attitude magazine and author of Blowing Whistles, a play performed in London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne and in the United States. He lives in London.

Jerusalem Ablaze by Orlando Ortega-Medina (Cloud Lodge)

Thirteen eclectic works of dark fiction, taking the reader from Los Angeles to the eastern townships of Quebec. Ortega-Medina’s characters are flawed, broken individuals, trying their best to make sense of their lives as they struggle with sexuality, death, obsession, and religion.

Orlando Ortega-Medina is a US born British-Canadian author of Judeo-Spanish descent. He studied English Literature at UCLA and has a Juris Doctor law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. He resides in London, where he practices US immigration law.

The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise by Crystal Jeans (Honno)

A witty and heart-warming coming-of-age tale set in the 1990s. It follows adolescent Crissy who lives with her temperamental mother, jobless father and sister Veronica in Cardiff.

Crystal Jeans was born and brought up in Cardiff. She lived in Bristol before doing first a Creative Writing BA then an MPhil at the University of Glamorgan. She works in a care home, which inspired Just Like That, a collection of poetry about dementia (Mulfran Press).

About the Polari First Book Prize

  • The Polari First Book Prize was launched in 2011 and previous winners include Paul McVeigh, Kirsty Logan, Diriye Osman, James Maker and Mari Hannah.
  • Coinciding with the 10th year anniversary Polari Salon tour, the winner will be announced at the London Literature Festival on Friday 13th October at Southbank Centre.
  • Polari First Book Prize partners with WH Smiths Travel and last year’s shortlisted books were displayed in Travel outlets nationwide.

About Polari Literary Salon

  • Polari Literary Salon began in 2007 in the upstairs room of a bar in Soho. Events are now held monthly at the Southbank Centre and regularly sell out.
  • In 2013, Polari was named ‘LGBT Cultural Event of the Year’ in the Co-op Respect Loved By You Awards.
  • This year Polari Literary Salon will celebrate its 10th year championing LGBT voices in literature with the largest ever LGBT literary tour in the UK. The 16-date tour will kick off at Bradford Literature Festival on July 7 before moving on to Hull on July 27 for a special event at Hull Pride/City of Culture marking the anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967.
  • The tour will showcase over 80 writers from across the UK. Amongst the many confirmed names are Val McDermid, Neil Bartlett, Jonathan Harvey, Stella Duffy, Dean Atta, Jake Arnott, Paul Flynn, James Maker, Karen McLeod aka Barbara Brownskirt, John McCullough, Gerry Potter, Matthew Todd, James Wharton, David McAlmont, Rosie Garland and Kirsty Logan.

About Paul Burston

Paul Burston is journalist, author and founder of the Polari Literary Salon and Polari First Book Prize. A founding editor of Attitude magazine, he has written for many publications including the Guardian, Time Out, The Times and The Sunday Times. He is the author of three books including Lovers and Losers, shortlisted for the Stonewall Award. In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s #FiveFilms4Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating 33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world.

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