Culture

Gordon Burn prize shortlist announced: jazz icons, true crime and a rogue psychotherapist

Books by David Whitehouse, Preti Taneja and Graeme Macrae Burnet are on the shortlist for this year’s Gordon Burn prize.

The award is for the year’s “boldest and most innovative” books, and is open to fiction and nonfiction.

Also making the shortlist of five – chosen by a judging panel chaired by writer Denise Mina – are Margo Jefferson and Lea Ypi. The shortlist includes memoir, creative nonfiction, true crime and fiction in works the prize described as “expansive in form and ambition”, and which “unflinchingly explore themes from radical compassion to the nature of sanity to the duty that comes with freedom”.

Whitehouse is shortlisted for About a Son, which is part true crime and part memoir. The book is inspired by a diary kept by Colin Hehir, whose son Morgan was stabbed to death by strangers on Halloween 2015 in Nuneaton.

Taneja’s Aftermath was written after a former creative writing student of hers killed two people. Usman Khan – whom Taneja taught while he was incarcerated for terrorism-related offences – killed Saskia Jones and Taneja’s colleague Jack Merritt at a prison education conference a year after he was released from prison. In Aftermath, Taneja blends journalism, memoir, poetry and literary criticism to try to process the event.

Macrae’s Case Study, which has also been longlisted for the Booker prize, is set in London in 1965 as a young woman goes undercover, suspecting maverick psychotherapist Collins Braithwaite of involvement in a death in her family.

Jefferson is shortlisted for Constructing a Nervous System, which blends memoir and cultural analysis to investigate race, class and more. It touches on ideas of what the female body could be, taking in jazz and blues icons, white supremacy in the novels of Willa Cather, and more. Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, reviewing for the Observer, called the book a “deeply personal account of black female identity”.

Completing the lineup is Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Ypi, a memoir about the author’s time growing up in Albania when statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled and democracy was brought in. Blending the political with the personal story of her family’s secret, Free is a book about what freedom really means.

Mina was joined on the judging panel by sports journalist and columnist Jonathan Liew, broadcaster Stuart Maconie, artist and poet Heather Phillipson, and writer Chitra Ramaswamy.

The chair of judges said it had been “a very strong year” for the prize. “It has been a privilege and a joy to read these books, thrilling and surprising in turn,” she added. “Each and every book on the shortlist more than deserves its place.”

The prize is run in partnership by the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Faber & Faber and Durham book festival.

It is named in honour of Newcastle-born writer Gordon Burn, who died in 2009, and seeks to celebrate those who follow in his footsteps.

The winner, who will be announced on 13 October at Durham book festival, will receive £5,000 and the chance to undertake a three-month retreat at Burn’s former cottage in the Scottish Borders.

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