We are delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2023 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize, an annual competition for unpublished writers. Initially made possible by an Arts Council Grant in 2015, the prize awards £3,000 to the best proposal for a book-length essay (minimum 25,000 words) by a writer resident in the UK & Ireland who has yet to secure a publishing deal. In addition to the £3,000 prize the winner will have the opportunity to spend up to three months in residency at the Mahler & LeWitt Studios in Spoleto, Italy, to work on their book. The book will then be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.  The shortlist, chosen out of 107 entries, is as follows: 

— There is another world, but it is this one by Luke Allan, a lyrical essay that braids elements of memoir, literary theory and cultural criticism. On the surface, it explores the author’s relationship to books and reading – the ambivalence, disappointment, frustration and anger that one is rarely encouraged to embrace as a reader of books – but along the way it becomes something bigger: a meditation on family and death. Written in discrete pensées, it touches on a variety of subjects and themes including illness, mothers, animals, suicide, marriage, the stars, Iceland, dreams, the internet, bodies, sex, coffee and smells. Luke Allan is a poet and typographer from Newcastle. He is former Managing Editor at Carcanet Press and Deputy Editor of PN Review, and is currently Editor-in-Chief at Oxford Poetry. His work is published in the TLS, the Literary Review and The Poetry Review. He received the 2019 Charles Causley Prize and the 2021 Mairtín Crawford Award.

— Embryos Denied Mitosis by Toby Chai, which fuses memoir and autoethnographic analysis in an examination of immigration and transitioning. Spanning personal and familial experiences of gender dysphoria, the Malayan Emergency, the UK immigration system, tier 1 exceptional talent visas, the British colonial penal code and historical gender plurality in South East Asia, the essay unpicks the legitimacy of identities assigned at birth and their entanglement in the history of colonisation and racialisation. Toby Chai is an artist and researcher based in London. Chai operates as an artist under the pseudonym nnull. He is in a collaborative practice titled Chromatic Agency with architect Sandy Rompotiyoke.

— Time is a Border by Pete Kowalczyk, a poignant essay about our obsession with ancestry. Beginning with the author’s hunt for his own ancestry in a small village on the Ukraine-Poland border, where Kowalczyk’s grandfather’s family went missing in 1939, Time is a Border spans decades, continents, literature, art and philosophy in a meditation on trauma and ‘ancestral suffering’, voyeurism and violence, the landscape of borders and the impetus behind ancestry quests. Pete Kowalczyk is a writer living in the north of England. For the last three years he’s been researching the history of Poland and Ukraine, and his family links to it. He’s written for the Guardian, the European Review of BooksCNNDazedVice and Latterly

— The Balkan Bridge by Matthew Porges takes root in the time the author spent conducting fieldwork in Central and Eastern Europe. Ostensibly researching the relationship between ‘migration, activism, and political imagination in the Northwestern Balkans’, Porges’s encounters with students and activists, refugees and migrants in the Balkans gives rise to a broader meditation on political and social disillusionment, resignation and hope in the contemporary left, and the desire and drive for a better world within the current global conditions. Matthew Porges is a writer and anthropologist based in Oxford. He is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society. He holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of St Andrews. His freelance writing has appeared in the London Review of BooksLos Angeles Review of BooksJadaliyya, and elsewhere.

— Between October and November by Ghalya Saadawi is an essay on time and loss under an extended, capitalist modernity, on what we keep and what is taken away. The essay has its beginnings in a letter to a friend, in which Saadawi explored political family histories, fashion and music’s retromania, postponement of writing, and the eruption of the past in the present. Written in fragments and digressions that thread cultural criticism, family memoir and life writing, the essay continues to think through the continued cultural obsession with the past and the future, foreclosed revolutionary legacies, the contradictions of destruction and tradition, mourning and the mediation of memory. Ghalya Saadawi is senior lecturer at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London and teaches theory at the Dutch Art Institute, and is affiliated with the Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research. When she is not working at those, she is writing prose and scholarship most recently on hypochondria, psychoanalysis and the law, and reified political-economic categories that become a personal vocabulary and a mode of relating.

— The Divorce Plot by Asa Seresin, a cultural exploration of divorce and the profound uncertainty around its meaning. Drawing on visual art, literature, film, pop culture, history, philosophy and legal analysis, The Divorce Plot rethinks divorce as an act of improvisation which signals more than absence or negation of marriage, but a new state of relationship. Asa Seresin is a writer and researcher whose work explores gender, sexuality, genre, visual art, psychoanalysis, and the law. His writing has been published in CabinetThe New InquirySpikeTank, and Transgender Studies Quarterly. He is completing a doctoral degree in English at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in London.

The winner will be announced at the end of May. The judges are Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Max Porter and Jacques Testard. The judges are looking for essays that explore and expand the possibilities of the essay form, with no restrictions on theme or subject matter. The Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize aims to find the best emerging essay writers and to give them a chance to develop and showcase their talent. It also provides the winner with their first experience of publishing a book, from the planning, research and writing of it through to the editing, production and publicity stages.

Marianne Brooker won the 2022 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize for her proposal Intervals, an essay about choice, interdependence and end-of-life care. Blending memoir, polemic and feminist philosophy in order to transform grief into a resource for politics, Intervals explores the space between proximity and complicity, charting the author’s care for her mother as she refused food and water at the end of her life, determined to end her suffering from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The other shortlisted authors, chosen from 124 entries, were Chloe Evans for Elastic Bands, Holly Isard for Molecular Visions, Benoit Loîseau for Fast, Oliver Shamlou for Shabaneh and Radio Silence by Stephanie Y. Tam. The 2022 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Max Porter and Jacques Testard.

Heather McCalden was awarded the 2021 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize with The Observable Universe, a prismatic account of grief conveyed through images, anecdotes and Wikipedia-like entries, calibrated specifically for the Internet Age. Centred on the loss of her parents to AIDS in the early ’90s, The Observable Universe questions what it means to ‘go viral’ in an era of explosive biochemical and virtual contagion. It will be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in January 2024. The other shortlisted entries were Q is for Garden by Jenny Chamarette, The Report by Joshua Craze, Terra Nullius by Joanna Pidcock, The Raven’s Nest by Sarah Thomas, and Broken Rice by April Yee. The 2021 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Max Porter and Jacques Testard.

Thea Lenarduzzi was awarded the 2020 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize with her proposal for Dandelions, a family memoir and social history about two women piecing together themselves and each other from the fragments of four generations’ worth of migration between Italy and England, and the stories scattered along the way. Dandelions was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in September 2022. The other shortlisted entries were Not Revolving by Rashed Aqrabawi, Black Space in the Basement by Elliot C. Mason, Which As You Know Means Violence by Philippa Snow, We Blew Them Into Shards of Dust by Sean Stoker and Mrs Gargantua: Cuba, the United States and the New Man by JS Tennant. The 2020 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Paul Keegan and Jacques Testard. 

In 2019, Polly Barton was awarded the fourth iteration of the Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize for Fifty Sounds, an attempt to exhaust her obsession with the country she moved to at the age of 21, before eventually becoming a literary translator. From min-min, the sound of air screaming, to jin-jin, the sound of being touched for the very first time, from hi’sori, the sound of harbouring masochist tendencies, to mote-mote, the sound of becoming a small-town movie star, Fifty Sounds is a personal dictionary of the Japanese language, recounting her life as an outsider in Japan. Fifty Sounds was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions on 14 April 2021. The other four shortlisted entries were On Lunar Thinking by Amy Budd, There is California Champagne: Dignity and Work at the End of the World by Michael Docherty, Tender as Memory by Maria Howard, and Common Periwinkle by Bryony White. The 2019 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Paul Keegan and Jacques Testard. 

In 2018, Joanna Pocock won the prize for Surrender, a narrative non-fiction work on the changing landscape of the West and the scavenger, rewilder and Ecosexual communities, inspired by a two-year stay in Montana. Surrender was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in May 2019. The other five shortlisted entries were A Woman’s Place by Rachel Andrews, Oliver Basciano’s Tichile┼čti, Felix Bazalgette’s Natural MagicGay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin, and Rebecca Perry’s Four Invocations. The 2018 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Paul Keegan and Jacques Testard. 

In 2017, Katy Whitehead was awarded the prize for Adventures in Synthetic Fun, an essay exploring the concept of ‘synthetic fun’ coined in the 1960s by Jeremy Sandford, and the changing nature of fun in an era of increasing automation, disputed oppression, widespread affective labour, illusory meritocracy, costly social mobility, divisive politics, and a degraded imagination. The other four shortlisted entries were Wolf: An Anatomy of an Illness by Elinor Cleghorn; English as a Foreign Language by Evan Harris; Other, Mixed by Will Harris; and Possession by Rebecca Ley. The 2017 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Paul Keegan and Jacques Testard. 

In 2016, Matthew McNaught was awarded the inaugural Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & LeWitt Studios Essay Prize for Immanuel, an essay about faith, doubt and radical religion, inspired in part by his experiences growing up in an evangelical Christian community in the south of England. Immanuel was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in June 2022. The other four shortlisted entries were Corona by Felix Bazalgette; Bad For You by Alice Hattrick; Growing up Modern by Jennifer Kabat; and Double-Tracking by Rosanna Mclaughlin. The 2016 Essay Prize was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Paul Keegan, Ali Smith and Jacques Testard. 


The Mahler & LeWitt Studios are established around the former studios of Anna Mahler and Sol LeWitt in Spoleto, Italy. The residency programme provides a focused and stimulating environment for artists, curators and writers to develop new ways of working in dialogue with peers and the unique cultural heritage of the region. For more information please visit


Joanna Biggs is a writer and editor at Harper’s and co-founder of Silver Press. Her book about the way we work, All Day Long, was published by Serpent’s Tail in 2015. Her second book, A Life of One’s Own, is out with Weidenfeld & Nicolson in May 2023. 

Brian Dillon is a writer and critic. His books include Suppose a Sentence (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020), Essayism (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), The Great Explosion (Penguin, 2015), Objects in This Mirror: Essays (Sternberg Press, 2014), Sanctuary (Sternberg Press, 2011), Tormented Hope (Penguin, 2009) and In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005; Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018). He teaches creative writing at the Queen Mary. Affinities, a book about the intimate and abstract pleasures of reading and looking, will be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in February 2023. 

Joanna Kavenna is the author of The Ice Museum (Viking, 2006), Inglorious (Faber & Faber, 2007), The Birth of Love (Faber & Faber, 2011), Come to the Edge (riverrun, 2012), A Field Guide to Reality (riverrun, 2017) and Zed (Faber & Faber, 2019). Her writing has appeared in the New YorkerGuardian, Observer, Telegraph, SpectatorLondon Review of Books and New York Times and she has held writing fellowships at St Antony's College Oxford and St John's College Cambridge. In 2011 she was named as one of the Telegraph’s 20 Writers Under 40 and in 2013 was listed as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in Oxfordshire.

Max Porter is the author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers (Faber & Faber, 2016), winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize; Lanny (Faber & Faber, 2019), longlisted for the Booker Prize; and an essay, The Death of Francis Bacon (Faber & Faber, 2021). His latest novel, Shy, is forthcoming in April 2023 from Faber & Faber. 

Jacques Testard is the publisher of Fitzcarraldo Editions and a founding editor of The White Review.  


Please read these eligibility and entry rules carefully before submitting. Submission of an entry is taken as acceptance of the entry rules. For any queries not covered below, please email 

1) The competition is open to unpublished writers residing in Great Britain and Ireland only.

2) Entrants should submit a proposal for a book-length essay (over 25,000 words) to The proposal itself should be no longer than 5,000 words. Entrants may also submit a separate writing sample of up to 5,000 words. Proposals and samples should be double-spaced, 12pt. 

3) Each proposal should outline the subject matter, scope, style and structure of the proposed essay, and include a word count, delivery date and biographical note.  

4) The proposals must be original, not previously submitted to a publisher. The writing sample may be previously published work. 

5) Entries can also be sent by post to Fitzcarraldo Editions, A103, 8-12 Creekside, London SE8 3DX. 

6) Only submissions received by email or by post by midnight on 13 March 2023 (GMT) will be considered.

7) Entries that are incomplete, are corrupted or submitted after the deadline will not be considered.

8) The entry must be the entrant’s own original creation and must not infringe upon the right or copyright of any person or entity.

9) Co-authored entries will not be accepted. 

10) Writers who have existing contracts, or who have previously held contracts, with publishers for books of fiction or non-fiction are not eligible to enter.

11) Writers who have published writing (fiction or non-fiction) in magazines and journals are eligible to enter.

12) Writers who have published books of poetry are eligible to enter.

13) Writers may submit only one proposal per iteration of the prize. 

14) The proposed essay must be written in English (no translations).

15) Submissions must be made by the author of the proposal.

16) There are no age restrictions.

17) When submitting, please include a short covering letter including your contact details, your name and the title of your proposed essay. The covering letter should be in the same document as your submission. Entrants should also submit a separate one-page cover letter on how they propose to use the residency at the Mahler-LeWitt Studios. 

18) Submissions from writers residing outside of Great Britain and Ireland will not be considered.

19) All submissions should include page numbers.

20) The essay must be original and should not have been previously published anywhere in full or in part. Published work is taken to mean published in any printed, publicly accessible form, e.g. anthology, magazine, newspaper. It is also taken to mean published online, with the exception of personal blogs and personal websites.

21) A meeting will be organised with all shortlisted writers to discuss their book proposal before the award of the prize. 

22) Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted.

23) No editorial feedback will be provided to unsuccessful entrants.

24) The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding the judging process.

25) Fitzcarraldo Editions will have the exclusive right to publish the winning essay once it has been written, but reserves the right not to publish. 

26) Only submissions which meet all Terms and Conditions will be considered.

27) By entering this competition, each entrant agrees to be bound by these Terms and Conditions.