In 2007, when I created Polari literary salon, there wasn’t all this talk of diversity in publishing we hear today. In 2011, when I founded The Polari First Book Prize to celebrate books which explore the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people, the number of submissions was small. Now in its eighth year, the prize has grown enormously. The number of submissions this year was four times the number we received in 2017. On Saturday October 20 we’ll be announcing this year’s winner at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre, from the shortlist pictured above. But it would be naive to think that LGBTQ content is no longer an issue in publishing. Earlier this year, author Matt Cain crowd-funded his novel ‘The Madonna of Bolton’ through Unbound after it was turned down by many major UK publishers for being “too gay”. It became the fastest-funded novel in the history of Unbound.
This week a writing competition caused a stir on Twitter. Based in America, The Creative Writing Institute have a flash fiction competition that rules out submissions containing “sex, graphic violence and LGBTQ content.” As if our lives and our stories are somehow pornographic by nature and on a par with graphic violence. I had to remind myself that this is 2018. Not 1958. For as long as attitudes like this exist, and many publishers remain risk averse to books with LGBTQ+ content, there will still be a need for prizes like ours.