The last Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year was Interstate (Arcadia), Julian Sayarer’s portrait of the United States as he saw it while hitchhiking during the final days of the Obama administration. Which will be the next? That’s something not even the judges will know for a while: we met for the first time this week.
The £5,000 Stanford Dolman prize, formerly the Dolman prize — after the Rev William Dolman, a member of the Authors’ Club, who had been sponsoring it through the club since 2006 — was rebranded in 2015 and is now the centrepiece of a scheme run by the bookseller Stanfords and named after its founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. This year, as last, the chair of the judging panel is the travel writer and biographer Sara Wheeler. Joining her are Helena Drysdale, Jason Goodwin, Victoria Mather, Mary Novakovich, Samantha Weinberg and yours truly.
On Tuesday, at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall, base for the Authors’ Club, we met the literary journalist Suzi Feay, a member of the club’s committee, went through books that have been submitted to check they are eligible and called in a few more. Then we went home with our first batch of books to read.
Guidebooks aren’t eligible (though they may be for one of the other awards in the Edward Stanford scheme). Nor are novels, however powerfully they evoke a spirit of place (and there’s already an award for that in the RSL Ondaatje Prize). The Stanford Dolman is a prize for narrative travel writing. There is often some debate over what constitutes a travel book, but once it’s settled and we’ve decided to consider a book, Sara told us, our chief criterion in assessing a title, and weighing it against others, should be literary merit.
We are due to confirm a short list by December 7, for announcement on January 10. The winner will be chosen by January 22, and the award ceremony is due to take place during the Stanfords Travel Writers’ Festival at the Destinations Show at Olympia, London, early in February.
I can already think of a book or two from the past year that might be a contender for the prize, but we have all been asked to avoid mention in public of particular titles until we have arrived at a short list. I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow judges think should be on that.