Polari Literary Salon: 6th Birthday and the 2nd Polari First Book Prize Winner

Where: SouthBank
When: Monthly, 7.45pm
Tickets: £5

From humble beginnings in a bar in Soho, to the swanky Purcell Room at SouthBank, Polari, brainchild of, chaired and curated by Paul Burston, LGBT Editor at Time Out has come a long way and is still going from strength to strength on it's 6th Birthday. 

Described as the 'peerless' literary salon for LGBT writers, Polari regularly attracts the creme-de-la-creme of authors publishing LGBT content; poetry, novels and non fiction. Previous performers include Penny Arcade, Rikki Beadle-Blair, Andy Bell, Sophia Blackwell, DJ Connell, Maureen Duffy, Stella Duffy, Fenella Fielding, Lauren Henderson, Celine Hispiche, Celia Imrie,  VG Lee, Charlotte Mendelson, Molly Parkin, Bethan Roberts, Ali Smith, Helen Smith, Rosie Wilby and many more. 

Each month, LGBT queer literary sublime afficionados are treated to five writers giving readings or other kinds of performances from classic or new pieces. A must for anyone interested in celebrating and keeping up to date with the best of LGBT publishing. Polari is the quintessential one of a kind event that is much needed to help keep LGBT quality publishing alive.

As it's grown in popularity and success, Polari has had the opportunity to go beyond London with pop up events happening in Herts and next March in Hull.

This month, the guests, many of whom are loyal regulars, were treated to readings from Rosie Garland's Palace of Curiosities (published by Harper Collins in April); Patrick Flanery gave a sneak peek of a work in progress. Paul Burston emerges from behind the curtain to open, host and chair the evening, introducing each writer in turn.

Singer Dee Chanelle sang to help kick the birthdays into celebration, and posed the question about what resides in the space between fiction and reality. 

Following the interval, a great opportunity to network, drink wine and buy the books being read from, Helen Lederer introduced the upcoming prize announcement via a short but hilarious comic set.

The second act produced Dean Atta's performance poetry, and Charlotte Mendelson sharing a subtle lesbian moment with us. 

Then to the award announcement of the winner of the second Polari First Book Prize, and presentation of the £1000 cash prize. The award is sponsored by Societe-Generale's LGBT Network. 

The panel, which comprised

  • Paul Burston (Chair of Judges) – author, journalist and host of Polari 
  • Bidisha – writer, critic and broadcaster
  • Suzi Feay – literary critic
  • Rachel Holmes – author and former Head of Literature at the Southbank Centre
  • VG Lee – author and comedian
  • Joe Storey-Scott – books buyer

The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah. The Murder Wall is the first in a new series of crime fiction featuring DCI Kate Daniels.

VG Lee, panelist, speaking to me just before the event, told me that the Award worked hard in its second year to encourage more women to submit publications for consideration. Following criticism of the lack of women on the shortlist in the first year, an outreach programme succeeded in generating 60% of entries from women. The quality of these submissions is reflected in the shortlist that contained three entries by women, and of course a female winner. 

We will shortly be speaking to Mari Hannah about what winning the prize will mean for her and her writing.