Diana Souhami wins the Polari Prize for ‘No Modernism Without Lesbians’

 Diana Souhami

Author Diana Souhami has won the 2021 Polari Prize for her book No Modernism Without Lesbians.

The British based literature award is open to books of any genre that explore the LGBTQ+ experience. Polari refers to the slang language used by gay men to communicate to each other prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Souhami’s well researched book focusses on a group of women who helped begin the modernist movement. The work looks 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.

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.”

The Polari First Book Prize, which recognises the debut work by an author was won by Mohsin Zaidi for his memoir A Dutiful Boy, which charts his journey growing up in a devout shia Muslim community within a poor pocket of east London.

Zaidi’s revelatory memoir is described as 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.”

OIP Staff


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