Michael Frank Wins 2018 JQ Wingate Literary Prize

Posted by Justine Solomons on February 16, 2018, in News

Byte the Book's Justine Solomons was delighted to be invited to attend the JQ Wingate Literary Prize this year..

Here's their report on the prize.

Michael Frank’s family memoir The Mighty Franks has been named winner of the 2018 JQ Wingate Literary Prize.

His portrait of life with his eccentric LA family was chosen from a short list which also included The Dark Circle by Linda Grant; The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others by Mya Guarnieri Jaradat; Small Pieces: A Book of Lamentations by Joanne Limburg; Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem by George Prochnik and The Holocaust by Laurence Rees.

The judges described Frank’s winning book as “dazzlingly vivid… hilarious, uncomfortable and tender”.

Now in its 41st year, the JQ Wingate Literary prize, worth £4,000 and run in association with JW3, is awarded to the best book, fiction or non-fiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader.

The judges and the winner! From left to right: Bidisha (judge), Micheal Frank (winner), Amanda Craig (judge), and Toby Lichtig (judge) - unfortunately Maureen wasn't able to attend the award evening due to ill health.

This year’s judging panel comprised TLS fiction and politics editor Toby Lichtig; journalist, broadcaster and Booker Prize Foundation trustee Bidisha; author and critic Amanda Craig and London School of Jewish Studies Teaching Fellow Maureen Kendler.

Chair of judges Toby Lichtig said: “Michael Frank's memoir is a dazzlingly vivid portrait of an eccentric Los Angeles family. Frank’s paternal aunt and maternal uncle were married; his grandmothers shared a flat. The whole clan lived within minutes of one another. Presiding over this claustrophobic set up was the domineering presence of the author’s aunt: a successful and vivacious Hollywood screenwriter who demanded total devotion and availability from those on whom she showered her affections.

“The book is beautifully written, perfectly paced, uncomfortable, tender and surprising. Although it wears its Jewishness lightly, the background culture pulses unmistakably throughout: in the pull of the old world of Mitteleuropa, in the growing pains of American assimilation, in the vexed and complex domestic dynamics at its heart.

“This is both a book about a very specific Jewish family and in some sense about all families. As such it should be read, reread and enjoyed by everyone. “

Speaking in response to winning the prize, Michael Frank said: “I am delighted that The Mighty Franks has been awarded this year's JQ Wingate Prize and am especially honoured that it has been chosen from a group of such distinguished books.

“The fact that the memoir has been read for its implicit, rather than explicit, depiction of Jewish identity seems to affirm my own feeling that there are as many ways to convey Jewishness as there are Jews.  Mine is a very personal portrait of a very particular family, one I set out to draw with as much candour and clarity as I could command.  Jewishness was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, both in the lived experience and the summoning of it from memory.”

This year’s winner was announced at JW3, following a discussion evening, with the 2018 judging panel, looking at the significance of a specifically Jewish prize and the joys, challenges and considerations of judging it. The BBC’s Emily Kasriel chaired the event.

The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize is the only UK literary prize of its kind and attracts nominations from all over the globe. Previous winners include Amos Oz, Zadie Smith, Oliver Sacks, Otto Dov Kulka and David Grossman.

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