Prizing Experiments – The Goldsmith Prize 2017

Gesa Stedman explains how The Goldsmith Prize differs from most other literary awards – authors win it not for readability, accessibility or commercial appeal but rather for the formal risks they take.

The number of literary prizes is considerable – some even say, it is excessive. Special-interest prizes, genre-related prizes, audience prizes, children’s book prizes – any corner of the literary market has its own prize. Some are founded for political reasons, and seek to redress a balance. Thus the former Orange Prize for Women’s Fiction, now The Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, or the recently founded Jhalak Prize, which showcases writing by BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) authors only , notoriously underrepresented in the literary field.

The Goldsmith Prize was founded to bring books and writers to the fore which don’t appeal to the masses. The experimental novel which makes readers work harder, rather than the easily accessible work which might win the Man Booker or the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, the Costa Novel Award, or any other mainstream literary prize, will be awarded the Goldsmith Prize.

It was founded in 2013 to…

celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form. The annual prize of £10,000 is awarded to a book that is deemed genuinely novel and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterizes the genre at its best.

The prize is awarded annually, with a short-list announced in September, and the winner announced in November. Novels are eligible if they have been written in English by citizens of the UK or the Republic of Ireland, and have been published by a publisher based in the UK or in Ireland. It is the publishers who submit the novels, as bound proofs or as printed books. The judging panel can also call in books itself which have not been submitted by publishers.

Former winners include Kevin Barry and Ali Smith. A review of the 2015-winner Beatlebone was published on The Literary Field Kaleidoscope last month, and Ali Smith’s How to be Both which won the Goldsmith in 2014 will be reviewed in the new year. Eimear McBride was the first-ever winner with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and last year the prize went to Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Nicola Harper’s novel H(a)ppy is this year’s winner. This is what the chair of the judges, Naomi Wood, says about it:

Nicola Barker’s H(a)ppy is a structural marvel to hold in the mind and in the hands. Line by line, colour by colour, this dystopic utopia is an ingenious closed loop of mass surveillance, technology, and personality-modifying psychopharmaceuticals. H(a)ppy is a fabulous demonstration of what the Goldsmiths Prize champions: innovation of form that only ever enriches the story. In Barker’s 3D-sculpture of a novel, H(a)ppy makes the case for the novel as a physical form and an object of art.

This year’s judges were Kevin Barry, AL Kennedy, Naomi Wood and Tracy Thorn.

We will review H(a)ppy as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, read Alex Clar’s praise for Barker’s latest novel here: (last access 17 November 2017) (last access 17 November 2017)