Four novels, a novella, one collection of poetry and two works of non-fiction from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and North America are in contention for the £30,000 Rathbones Folio Prize, which rewards the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form.

2018 Man Booker Prize Winner Anna Burns, powerful new voice in Native American fiction Tommy Orange, London-born poet Raymond Antrobus and genre-defying memoirist Guy Stagg were among the eight writers found to be writing at the top of their game by the jury, which is drawn exclusively from the Folio Academy of writers.

Announcing the shortlist, the 2019 chair of judges Kate Clanchy said: “Judges of literary prizes are supposed to engage in dark arguments, but the words my fellow judges kept saying to each other were ‘joy’ and ‘luck’: a joy to read the fantastically wide ranging list, across geography and literary genres, nominated by the Folio Academy; luck to be reading at a time when the genres are recreating themselves so rapidly. We chose passionate, singular books, books which we felt took risks and pushed words and often the writer to new limits.

“Among novels, we chose Alice Jolly’s strange and visionary verse narrative Mary Anne Sate, Imbecile, written originally with a dipping ink pen; Carys Davies’ audacious novella about a quixotic early American father, West; There, There, by Tommy Orange, a tender but confronting ‘polyphonic’ novel about the Native American experience. Diana Evans’ Ordinary People, which delicately realises and recognises difference and pain in contemporary Black Londoners, sits next to Anna Burns’ funny, absorbing, terrifying Milkman.

“In non-fiction, we matched Guy Stagg’s exquisitely written memoir of his modern pilgrimage across Europe, The Crossway with New Zealander Ashleigh Young’s fresh, challenging book of essays, Can You Tolerate This? The Perseverance by Jamaican British poet Raymond Antrobus gave us an D/deaf experience in verse of power, craft and piercing emotional clarity.

Choosing a shortlist may have been a joy but picking a winner will surely be hard work.” Co-founder of the Rathbones Folio Prize, Andrew Kidd, went on to say:

“The 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize judges, themselves all writers of great renown, have tackled their brief – to identify the single best work of literature published in the English language last year – with amazing energy and flair. The eight, brilliant books now in the running for that distinction cut across all borders and genre, and are a testament to how writers are also the most astute and generous of readers.”

Independent publishing is well represented with five of the shortlisted books coming from smaller houses, including Unbound with their first nomination for the crowd-funded novel Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile by Alice Jolly; while prestigious literary imprints Chatto & Windus, Harvill Secker and Picador have one book each.

The eight shortlisted books are now in the running for the overall prize, increased this year to £30,000, and will be awarded at a ceremony at the British Library in London on 20 May 2019. They were chosen from a list of 80 works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, which the Folio Academy deemed to be the best published in the UK in 2018.

The Folio Prize was established in 2013 as the first major English language book prize open to writers from around the world. It is the only prize in which all the books considered for the prize are selected and judged by an academy of peers. When new sponsors, Rathbone Investment Management, came on board the prize was expanded to include all works of literature, regardless of form.

The Rathbones Folio Prize is the flagship of the Rathbones Folio Programme, which also includes the Rathbones Folio Mentorships for aspiring young writers and Rathbones Folio Prize Sessions at literary festivals across the UK. On the eve of the prize ceremony, May 19th, the shortlisted authors with the judges and chaired by A L Kennedy will take part in a Rathbones Folio Sessions day at the British Library on ‘How To Write a Book in a Day’, alongside a session with this year’s Rathbones Folio mentees.

Academy members Kate Clanchy, Chloe Aridjis and Owen Sheers make up the judging panel for the 2019 award.