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Shortlist revealed for Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize

Slightly Foxed and The Biographers’ Club announce 2022 shortlist for Best First Biography Prize

The shortlist for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize has been revealed, with six books in the running for the £2,500 prize.

This is the ninth year of the literary quarterly and independent publisher Slightly Foxed’s sponsorship of the Prize, with previous winners including: Lea Ypi, Free; Heather Clark, Red Comet; Jonathan Phillips, The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin; Bart van Es, The Cut Out Girl; Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter; Hisham Matar, The Return; Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son; Claudia Renton, Those Wild Wyndhams; Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher; Thomas Penn, Winter King; and Matthew Hollis, Now All Roads Lead to France.

Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly magazine and its acclaimed list of classic limited-edition memoirs have become something of an institution in the literary world.

The Biographers’ Club was founded in 1997 and is committed to supporting, promoting and connecting biographers at all levels. It offers three prizes each year: the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize; the Tony Lothian Prize and the Exceptional Contribution to Biography Award.


Tony Davidson, Confessions of a Highland Art Dealer: A Journey in Art, a Glen and Changing Times (Woodwose Books)

An ambitious young art dealer stumbles across an abandoned kirk in rural Inverness-shire and determines to transform it into an art gallery. This he does, on a shoestring, and then he sets out across Scotland to track down those with the most talent to exhibit. In fresh, surreal prose he conjures an almost lost world of eccentrics and artistic endeavour, adapting with ingenuity to new times.

Charles Elton, Cimino: The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate and the Price of a Vision (Abrams Press)

In this gripping first biography of Michael Cimino, Charles Elton offers a revisionist history of the director famed for putting the legendary Hollywood United Artists studio out of business with the epic failure of Heaven’s Gate, after his triumphant success with The Deer Hunter. This is a story of the making of art, the business of Hollywood, and the costs of ambition, both financial and personal.

Matt Rowland Hill, Original Sins: A Memoir (Chatto & Windus)

This propulsive memoir of addiction and recovery breaks all the moulds of confessional writing with its sheer astringency. Its brutal retelling of a blood-and-thunder childhood in an evangelical household and a subsequent decade lost to alcohol and Class A drugs offsets the horror with a wild, brilliant humour that leaves us longing for more.

Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne (Faber & Faber)

John Donne was the great poet of desire, death and God, and Katherine Rundell’s muscular, red-blooded life is a passionate book about a passionate man. His life was indeed a series of transformations: rake, lawyer, lover, jailbird, husband, failed diplomat, Dean of St Paul’s. Rundell’s bracing plunge into Donne’s world and the riches of his language is unforgettable.

Harry Sidebottom, The Mad Emperor: Heliogabalus and the Decadence of Rome (Oneworld Publications)

In AD 218 a 14-year-old Syrian boy was proclaimed Emperor of Rome after victory in battle; for the next four years he was to prove himself the worst emperor of all. Heliogabalus threw all conventions to the winds, humiliating the Senators, flirting with the lower orders and marrying a vestal virgin – twice. History has never been more entertaining than in this lively, witty account of his life and times.

Osman Yousefzada, The Go-Between: A Portrait of Growing Up Between Different Worlds (Canongate Books)

A coming-of-age story set in Birmingham in the ’80s and ’90s, The Go-Between opens a window on a devout, patriarchal Pakistani community in the middle of the city’s red-light district. By turns humorous, melancholy and harrowing, this account of competing models of masculinity, female erasure and friendship takes us from Birmingham to Pakistan and back to the London of Osman’s teenage years.

The judges

Judging the prize were: Alan Samson, a former Chairman and Non-Fiction Publisher of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and the publisher of numerous celebrated biographies and memoirs; Lucy Scholes, a Senior Editor at McNally Editions, a series of paperbacks devoted to hidden gems, and author of ‘Re-Covered’, a column for the Paris Review about forgotten books and their authors; and Anne Sebba, the prize-winning author of eleven books, mostly biographies of iconic women including Mother Teresa, Laura Ashley, Wallis Simpson, Jennie Churchill and Ethel Rosenberg.

The prize will be awarded on Tuesday 14 March with a drinks reception at Maggs Bros., Bedford Square, London.