Carmen Maria Machado wins $52K Folio Prize for best literary work of the year

Her 2019 memoir, In the Dream House, is an unconventional story of LGBTQ relationships and domestic abuse.

Her 2019 memoir, In the Dream House, is a story of LGBTQ relationships and domestic abuse

In the Dream House is a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. (Strange Light, Art Streiber)

Carmen Maria Machado has won the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize for her memoir In the Dream House.

The annual £30,000 ($52,017.00 Cdn) prize recognizes the best literary work of the year, in any form. This year's award was presented at a virtual ceremony in light of the coronavirus outbreak, with all the judges' comments shared live on Twitter. 

Machado is an award-winning writer from Philadelphia. She won the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize for her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties.

In the Dream House examines Machado's own story of LGBTQ identity and domestic abuse. She uses narrative tropes like haunted houses and bildungsroman to understand the volatile progression of her relationship with her partner. 

Each chapter centres around a different metaphor, with titles like Dream House as Appetite, and Dream House as Luck of the Draw. The chapters are short with pop culture references and reflect on the stereotype of utopian lesbian relationships.

"I'm sort of talking about this other version of myself, this old version of myself," Machado told CBC Radio's Day 6 host Brent Bambury in 2019. "I can't reach her but I'm still sort of talking to her and about her."

Carmen Maria Machado takes a new approach to memoir with her latest book, In the Dream House. She details her personal experiences of domestic abuse at the hands of another woman and weaves in pop culture references like her favourite queer Disney villains, as well as historical research and splashes of humour. 10:39

The 2021 prize was judged by British poet and writer Roger Robinson, Irish broadcaster and editor Sinéad Gleeson and British novelist Jon McGregor. 

"Carmen Maria Machado documents, in great detail, the descent of lives into obsessiveness, possession and, eventually, abuse amongst the queer community in which this is not often documented in literature," said Robinson in a jury statement.

Added Gleeson: "Machado explores queerness, domestic violence and bodies in a multi-genre masterpiece, told in taut, stunning prose."

Machado was shortlisted alongside international authors Sara Baume, Amina Cain, Elaine Feeney, Caleb Femi, Rachel Long, Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Monique Roffey.

"I hope this book gives readers language and context for either experiences they have had, or experiences people they know or love have had, adding a level of nuance to conversations around things like domestic violence, queerness, and sexual violence," Machado said in a statement.

While several Canadians have been nominated for the Rathbones Folio Prize since its inception in 2014, including Madeleine Thien in 2017, Rachel Cusk and Miriam Toews in 2015 and Anne Carson in 2013, none have won the prize.

British Jamaican poet Raymond Antrobus won the 2019 prize for his debut poetry collection The Perseverance.

Other past winners include Valeria Luiselli for the novel Lost Children ArchiveHisham Matar for the memoir The Return, Akhil Sharma for the novel Family Life and Richard Lloyd Parry for the nonfiction book Ghosts of the Tsunami.

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