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Mohsin Zaidi and Diana Souhami have been announced as the winners of the 2021 Polari Prizes, the UK’s only awards celebrating literature that explores the LGBTQ+ experience. Mohsin Zaidi becomes the 11th winner of the Polari First Book Prize for his memoir A Dutiful Boy (Square Peg), which charts his journey growing up in a devout Shia Muslim community within a poor pocket of east London. Diana Souhami scooped the overall Polari Prize for non-debut talent for her biography No Modernism without Lesbians (Head of Zeus) about a singular group of women who fostered the birth of the Modernist movement. The winners were announced in a ceremony held at the Southbank Centre at the London Literature Festival.

Both are non fiction books – part of a thirst for true life stories which seems to be happening across the publishing industry at the moment.

– Paul Burston

Culture wars.

A Guardian, New Statesman and GQ Book of the Year, Zaidi’s revelatory memoir is a moving and ultimately uplifting account of his experiences as a young boy in denial about his sexuality. Becoming the first person from his school to attend Oxford University, new experiences and encounters lead him on a path to self discovery, opening the door to live every part of his identity. Rachel Holmes, judge for the 2021 Polari First Book Prize, said of the book, “In these days of deliberately-stoked culture wars Mohsin Zaidi deftly engages us with the harsh, hilarious and inherently human realities of multiple identity. With painful honesty, he shows how no community of class, race, faith or queerness is immune from suspicion and occasional hatred of otherness, nor mercifully from love, laughter and acceptance.”

Outstanding women.

No Modernism Without Lesbians by renowned biographer Diana Souhami, is a bold, fresh new look at the early twentieth century cultural canon through the lens of four lesbians: Sylvia Beach, Bryher, Natalie Barney, and Gertrude Stein. A trailblazing publisher, a patron of artists, a society hostess, and a groundbreaking writer, their lives and work became central to fostering the Modernist movement in interwar Paris. 

Praising the winner, judge and CEO of the National Centre for Writing, Chris Gribble described the book as “richly researched, entertaining and hugely enjoyable” offering “insight into the lives, passions and legacies of a group of outstanding women who  together helped change the  course of their culture. Souhami is a brilliant guide and this book a celebration, corrective and fillip all in one.”


Speaking exclusively to OutNewsGlobal, founder Paul Burston said, “Both are non fiction books – part of a thirst for true life stories which seems to be happening across the publishing industry at the moment.

“Diana is a legend. She spoke on stage about being 82 and nearing the end of her career, hoping someone else will carry the torch forward.

“Mohsin actually cried as he talked about how we’re often denied our childhood as LGBTQ+ people. He later tweeted that the little boy on the cover of his book would never have imagined that one day he’d write a book and win an award”

Judges for the First Book Prize were Amrou Al-Kadhi, who won in 2020 for Life as a Unicorn: A Journey from Shame to Pride and Everything in Between, alongside Rachel Holmes and Keith Jarrett. The winner receives a cheque for £1,000 from prize sponsors FMcM Associates.

Judges for the Polari Prize were  2020 prize winner Kate  Davies, who  won  the  award for her  novel In at the Deep End, alongside Suzi Feay, Chris Gribble, and VG Lee. The winner receives a cheque for £2,000 from prize sponsors D H H Literary Agency.

Both prize panels are chaired by founder, journalist and author Paul Burston.

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