We’re thrilled to announce that Census by Jesse Ball has won the Gordon Burn Prize 2018.

A terminally ill father and his son travel from A to Z, encountering a multitude of stories as they carry out their duties as census takers. Though Census is partly fable, it was inspired by the life of Jesse Ball’s brother Abram, who had Down’s syndrome and passed away at the age of 24. The novel shows us the special wonder of the bond between the man and his son as we witness the lengths human kindness can stretch. This book views the world through a lens unlike any other, exploring the joys not of seeking but of finding.

Census was selected as the winner by the prize judges: journalist and critic Alex Clark, writer Kei Miller, artist Gillian Wearing and musician Andrew Weatherall.

Gillian Wearing commented:

“It was like walking through someone’s surreal grieving mind as they attempt to make sense of existence. This is a beautiful, moving book and unlike any I have read before.”

Jesse Ball has published more than ten books of prose and poetry in the United States, but Census is his first UK publication. Born in New York, he graduated from Vassar College. In 2008 he was awarded The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize for his story ‘The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr’, and in 2015 his novel A Cure for Suicide was longlisted for the National Book Awards. Ball was named one of the Granta Best of Young American Novelists in 2017. Among Ball’s published works are five other novels, including How to Set a Fire and Why and Silence Once Begun; a number of poetry and prose collections; a book of drawings and a pedagogical monograph, Notes on My Dunce Cap. He lives in Chicago, where he teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Jesse Ball said: “It is heartening to learn that this support, the Gordon Burn Prize, has been given to my book, Census, a book that in many ways is not my own. From the first, it was for my brother, a person who no longer exists (he is in the ground). As his, it is a book pointed at a world that we do not live in, but perhaps could. I would like for people to read the work because I think we can see differently than we do. We need not be limited by the poverty that is forced upon us, when we are already, every one of us, so rich in sight.”

Jesse Ball wins £5000 and the opportunity to take a three-month writing retreat at Gordon Burn’s cottage in the Scottish Borders.

The shortlist for the Gordon Burn Prize 2018 was:

  • Census, Jesse Ball (Granta Books)
  • H(a)ppy, Nicola Barker (William Heinemann)
  • In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne (Tinder Press, Headline)
  • Crudo, Olivia Laing (Picador)
  • The Cost of Living, Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara (Faber & Faber)

The Gordon Burn Prize, run in partnership by the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Faber & Faber and Durham Book Festival, seeks to celebrate the work of those who follow in Gordon Burn’s footsteps: novels which dare to enter history and interrogate the past; non-fiction adventurous enough to inhabit characters and events in order to create new and vivid realities.

Find out more www.gordonburnprize.com