Margo Jefferson’s Constructing a Nervous System has won the 2023 Rathbones Folio Prize Book of the Year, given each year for an outstanding work of English-language literature.
Jefferson’s memoir, which was also a finalist for this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, is a reflection of her life filtered through the musicians and authors who were important to her. In a starred review, a critic for Kirkus called the book “a dynamic, unflinchingly candid examination of the impacts of race and class on culture and the author’s own life.”
The judges for the award praised Jefferson’s memoir as “an astounding and rhapsodic book, playful and serious, throwing form brightly open as it goes.”
For the first year, the award—previously known as the Rathbones Folio Prize—presented three shortlists, one each for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The Book of the Year award was chosen from the winners in each category.
Jefferson’s book was the nonfiction category winner. Michelle de Kretser was the fiction category winner for Scary Monsters, a Kirkus Prize finalist, while Victoria Adukwei Bulley was named the poetry winner for Quiet.
The Folio Prize was first awarded in 2014, to George Saunders for Tenth of December. Other winners have included Hisham Matar for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between and Valeria Luiselli for Lost Children Archive.
Michael Schaub, a journalist and regular contributor to NPR, lives near Austin, Texas.