Portico Prize for Literature celebrates northern talent

The Portico Prize, administered by The Portico Library in Manchester, is a celebration of the cultural heritage of the North of England as represented in its literature. It highlights the strong regional identity of the North and raises awareness about its cultural and literary heritage. It also promotes high-quality writing of all kinds.

At an award ceremony on 22 November Sarah Hall won the fiction prize for her short story collection The Beautiful Indifference while Jean Sprackland picked up the non-fiction award for her book Strands.

The Portico Prize for Literature was established in 1985 to counter the focus on publishing, writing and literary prizes in London and the South of England. Supported by the Zochonis Charitable Trust, a prize is awarded biennially to each of the winners in the fiction and non-fiction (including poetry) categories. Publishers are invited to submit entries which have been published between the intervening closing dates, are set wholly or mainly in the North of England and are of literary merit.

The Arts Council supported this year’s Portico Prize with an award of £20,000 to increase the reach and impact of the prize and to encourage a region wide collaboration of partners. In response, the Zochonis Charitable Trust increased its own contribution.

This year’s award dinner was held at Manchester Town Hall. Shortlisted author readings took place in October in Manchester and in Durham as part of the cities’ literature festivals. Nearly 120 entries were received and entries came from as far afield as Yale University Press in the USA, for author Keith Wrightson’s Ralph Tailor’s Summer: A Scrivener, his City and the Plague.

The two winners were awarded £10,000 each. Jean Sprackland is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her book, Strands, is a series of meditations prompted by walking on wild beaches between Blackpool and Liverpool. Sarah Hall, born in Cumbria, is the first author to win the award twice. Her winning book this year, The Beautiful Indifference, is a series of seven short stories exploring relationships between men and women. Other shortlisted Cumbrian writers included Chris Wadsworth for The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Drawing and Keith Richardson for Jack’s Yak.

When announced as the winner in this year’s non-fiction category, Jean Sprackland said: “I’ve spent the time since the shortlist was announced being delighted just to have been included in such a strong field. The special thing about this prize is that it’s an award connected to a library – a library which connects the people of Manchester to the city’s past.”

Other shortlisted authors included Simon Armitage, Jeanette Winterson, A S Byatt and Val McDermid. These well-known authors sit alongside up-and-coming authors not long out of university, who contributed fresh and innovative voices to the shortlist. Many of the shortlisted authors attended the event which gave privileged access to writers of repute in many fields of literature including journalism. For example another shortlisted writer in the fiction category, Joan Bakewell, has strong familial links to the North.

Connections across the North came via writers such as Jane Rogers, professor of writing on Sheffield Hallam University’s post-graduate writing course, who was shortlisted for her science fiction novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Newcastle Lit & Phil, The Armitt Library and The Leeds Library, which are sister libraries of The Portico within the Association of Independent Libraries, are partners in the Portico Prize and have been hosting cross region and legacy events.

Commenting on this year’s Portico Prize, Alison Boyle, Arts Council England’s Literature Relationship Manager in the North West, said: “The Portico Prize directly supports three of our goals: rewarding artistic excellence, enabling more people to experience and be inspired by the arts, and making the arts sustainable, resilient and innovative. Under this last goal we encourage organisations to diversify their funding, including through philanthropy. At a tough time for the arts, the generous support of the Zochonis Charitable Foundation enables the Arts Council to extend the value of its contribution. The Portico Prize 2012 supports writers and the sharing of writing, but more than this, it profiles the North as a rich seam of creativity.”

To find out more about The Portico Prize, visit their website, follow them on Twitter @ThePortico or join their Facebook page.

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