Awarded annually to the most adventurous and innovative novel published in the UK and Republic of Ireland, the Goldsmiths Prize has supported and encouraged new forms of writing, encouraged publishers to take risks, and brought new readers to its winning and shortlisted authors.
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Since its launch in 2013, the Goldsmiths Prize has helped change attitudes towards kinds of fiction traditionally considered inaccessible.
The Prize was conceived and is run by Dr Tim Parnell, whose work on Laurence Sterne engages with a key moment of creative freedom in the history of the early novel. The Prize grew out of and builds on ongoing research (by Parnell and colleagues Professor Alan Downie and Professor Francis Spufford) into the inventive and unconventional types of fiction which emerged in the eighteenth-century before conventions were ‘fixed’ in the nineteenth.
The Prize’s profile and purpose – valuing and rewarding innovation – have encouraged contemporary authors to experiment, and the success of inaugural winner Eimear McBride (whose novel had been rejected by several major publishers because it was perceived as too experimental) led publishers to reassess conventional notions that experimentation and commercial success could not go hand in hand.
The Prize casts its net wider than most other prizes and has been able to generate interest in many novels previously unnoticed by mainstream literary media. The resulting boost to sales is seen most strikingly with novels published by small presses.
Key to the Prize’s conception and purpose is that its influence extends beyond the confines of the university, where literary innovation is already valued. Through its large Twitter following, partnership with the New Statesman, and extensive coverage in local, national and international media, the Goldsmiths Prize has opened up a conversation about ‘difficult’ literary fiction in ways few would have predicted before it came into being.
It may even have subtly and significantly changed the way Britain’s most influential prize, the Booker, judges its entrants - the 2016 Booker chair of judges talked of experimentation, innovation, boldness, willingness to take risks, and “being novel within the novel.”