We’re delighted to announce that Polly Barton has won the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, an annual competition for British and Irish writers yet to have secured a publishing deal, rewarding the best proposal for a book-length essay. Barton was awarded the prize for Fifty Sounds, a personal dictionary of the Japanese language, and a record of a process of linguistic and cultural assimilation simultaneously unique and universal, focusing closely on the experience of the author, who first travelled to Japan at the age of twenty-one to teach English on the remote island of Sado, and now works as a literary translator. She will receive £3,000 in the form of an advance against publication with Fitzcarraldo Editions, and will have the opportunity to spend up to three months in residency at the Mahler & LeWitt Studios in Spoleto, Italy, during the summer of 2019, to work on Fifty Sounds.

Polly Barton is a translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction. Born in 1984, and raised in west London, she studied philosophy at Cambridge before travelling with the JET Programme to teach English in Sado Island, Japan. She received an MA in the Theory and Practice of Translation at SOAS. Stories she has translated have appeared in Words Without BordersGranta and The White Review. Full-length translations include Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki (Pushkin Press, 2017) and Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda (Tilted Axis Press; forthcoming). She was the winner of the Inaugural JLPP International Japanese Translation Competition held by the Japanese Ministry of Culture in 2012 and the recipient of the 2016 Kyoko Selden International Translation Prize.  

The winning proposal was one of fifty-nine entries, and one of five to be shortlisted. The other shortlisted proposals are: 

– On Lunar Thinking by Amy Budd, a speculative history of Goddess cultures in the manner of Overlay by Lucy Lippard, outlining a mapping of the Goddess through specific manifestations of contemporary art, local and global prehistory, and mythology. Amy Budd is a writer and curator based in London. She is currently Associate Curator of Art Night and co-organiser of the artist-run space Piper Keys, London. Between 2014-2018 she was Exhibitions Organiser and Deputy Director at Raven Row, London, and previously held curatorial roles at Chisenhale Gallery, London, OUTPOST Gallery, Norwich and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. She is a regular contributor to Art Monthly and has published writing in frieze, Mousse, Afterall, This is Tomorrow and Kaleidoscope. She is a co-founder and co-editor of the peer-led publication A-or-ist, and co-edited with Dr Amy Tobin and Naomi Pearce the publication 14 Radnor Terrace: A Woman’s Place for the exhibition 56 Artillery Lane at Raven Row in 2017. 

– There is California Champagne: Dignity and Work at the End of the World by Michael Docherty, an essay an exploration of how Anglo-American pop culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has both coloured and reflected social attitudes to ‘the dignity of work’. Michael Docherty is currently an assistant lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Kent, where he is in the final stages of a thesis on race, space, labour, and legacies of the frontier in literary depictions of twentieth-century Los Angeles. He is a former Fulbright scholar and has published on the fiction of John Fante and the sociocultural history of rhythm and blues. Alongside his non-fiction interests, Michael is currently at work on a sequence of short fictions exploring forms of domestic masculinity.

Tender as Memory by Maria Howard, a meditation on memory, collective and individual, through the lens of women, neuroscience, landscape, archive and memoir, written at the intersection of the arts and sciences. Maria Howard is an artist working across text, video and ceramics. She lives in Glasgow where she is currently enrolled on the Art Writing MLitt at Glasgow School of Art. Her research centres around memory, landscape, women and the archive. She also works as a freelance writer and editor. 

– Common Periwinkle by Bryony White, an essay conceptualising queerness through queer performance and contemporary art. Using memoir and autobiography, the essay takes dormant and residual feelings of shame, pain, desire, and other affective attachments to connect the author to a lineage and network of artists whose work examines similar feelings. Bryony White is currently finishing her PhD at King's College London, with a thesis that explores the regulation of queer, racialised and non-normative bodies in performance and contemporary art. She has written for Hazlitt, frieze, LA Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Hazlitt and Art Monthly. She also co-edits the Tinyletter close, a platform for new writing exploring intimacy. She is currently an international research fellow at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. Bryony was born and grew up in Weymouth, Dorset and now lives in London.

The prize, which was judged by Joanna Biggs, Brian Dillon, Joanna Kavenna, Paul Keegan and Jacques Testard, was set up to find the best emerging essay writers and aims to reward essays that explore and expand the possibilities of the form. Initially made possible by an Arts Council Grant in 2015, it provides the winning author with their first experiences of publishing a book, from the planning, research and writing of it through to the editing, production and publicity stages. 

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. The other five shortlisted entries were A Woman’s Place by Rachel Andrews, Oliver Basciano’s Tichileşti, Felix Bazalgette’s Natural MagicGay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin, and Rebecca Perry’s Four Invocations

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. 

In 2016, Matthew McNaught was awarded the inaugural Fitzcarraldo Editions 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. 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 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 mahler-lewitt.org


Joanna Biggs is a writer and editor at the London Review of Books, and co-founder of Silver Press. Her book about the way we work, All Day Long, is published by Serpent’s Tail. 

Brian Dillon is a writer and critic. His books include 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 is UK editor of Cabinet magazine, and teaches critical writing at the Royal College of Art.

Joanna Kavenna is the author of The Ice MuseumInglorious (which won the Orange Prize for New Writing), The Birth of LoveCome to the Edge and A Field Guide to Reality. 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.

Paul Keegan has been editor of the Penguin Classics and Faber poetry editor; he co-founded Notting Hill Editions, has edited the Collected Poems of Ted Hughes and The Penguin Book of English Verse.

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 info@fitzcarraldoeditions.com. 

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 essayprize@fitzcarraldoeditions.com. 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, A104, 8-12 Creekside, London SE8 3DX. 

6) Only submissions received by email or by post by midnight on 1 March 2019 (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.

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