Among all of the book prizes in the UK and Ireland, the Republic of Consciousness Prize is unique in foregrounding small publishers. The publishers of the books chosen for the longlist, the shortlist and the eventual winner are awarded the prize money rather than the authors. The decision about which small press should be awarded the prize is based on evaluating a single book submitted by the press. The purpose of awarding the prize money is to aid the press in continuing to publish books of great merit.
Since last September, Sana Goyal, Rebecca Abrams and I have been reading the submitted books and while we didn’t always agree about the merits of particular books, we did agree that the books we read demonstrated the energy, daring and prowess of the independent presses who published them. In almost all cases, it was difficult to imagine the books being published by one of the much bigger, risk-averse publishers. But it was also noticeable that a few of the books fell short of being as good as they could have been had there been input from the sort of editorial process a large publisher would provide.
The most discernible trend within the novels we read was the ongoing tendency to present autobiography as fiction. Autofiction is nothing new, of course, but the success of such writing comes from having a story to tell that will fascinate the reader as much as the person telling it. For this judge, an author’s willingness to tell that story in a fractured, considered style added a great deal to the appeal of their writing.
It is an indication of the exceptional inventiveness and merit of so many of the books submitted that we found it very difficult to arrive at this longlist. We had hoped our dilemma could be solved by persuading the founder and administrator of the prize, Neil Griffiths, to allow us to choose 13 books. But ten it had to be!
The joy of opening a book – even when you have to read as many as we did – is that each one sets out its terms and creates a case for itself through language, structure and imagination
We reconsidered our options and arrived, eventually, at this list of 10 outstanding books. Within those 10, there is an impressive variety of styles, language and invention. There is a book of 70 pages and one of 710. There is a book written in Russian by a Belarusian prisoner and one in Japanese by a Korean writer. Books written in Hungarian, French, Portuguese, Danish and Spanish are also included. Of the two written in English, one is by a British writer and one by an author from Zimbabwe. I speak only for myself when I say that all of this was accidental. I judged each book on its worth. The joy of opening a book – even when you have to read as many as we did – is that each one sets out its terms and creates a case for itself through language, structure and imagination. When those three qualities were presented in fresh, audacious ways, I was won over.
Next month, we will have the difficult task of reducing this list of ten to a shortlist of five. Then, on April 17th, we will have the next-to-impossible job of deciding on a single book to be the winner of the 2024 Republic of Consciousness Prize. Whichever book is chosen, I know I will be both delighted at the choice and disappointed that one of the other four books was not selected instead!
The Republic of Consciousness Prize 2024 longlist
SUMMA KAOTICA by VENTURA AMETLLER, translated by DOUGLAS SUTTLE (Fum d’Estampa Press)
OF CATTLE AND MEN by ANA PAULA MAIA, translated by ZOE PERRY (Charco Press)
MAY THE TIGRIS GRIEVE FOR YOU by EMILIENNE MALFATTO, translated by LORNA SCOTT FOX (Les Fugitives)
TRUTH & DARE by SO MAYER (Cipher Press)
THE END OF AUGUST by YU MIRI, translated by MORGAN GILES (Tilted Axis Press)
AVENUES BY TRAIN by FARAI MUDZINGWA (Cassava Republic)
MY WORK by OLGA RAVN, translated by SOPHIA HERSI SMITH AND JENNIFER RUSSELL (Lolli Editions)
OUT OF EARTH by SHEYLA SMANIOTO, translated by LAURA GARMESON and SOPHIE LEWIS (Boiler House Press)
BARCODE by KRISZTINA TÓTH, translated by Peter Sherwood (Jantar)
THE ZEKAMERON by MAXIM ZNAK, translated by JIM and ELLA DINGLEY (Scotland Street Press)