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from which we selected a shortlist of twelve followed by five finalists and one winner. It was a highly harmonious and thought-provoking discussion, but there were dis­agreements. For what is an essay?

Some of us felt it was an argument put forth and proven, or at least that a viable attempt to prove an ­argument had to be evident. Others saw it as more of an investigation, with little or no need for teleology. The writing had to matter, as did style, tone and purpose. The subject did not.

What was obvious, though, was that no matter how much each of us clung to our particular set of criteria, we could always think of examples which were exceptional to the very principles we were clinging to, and this helpfully informed our conversation about the essays in front of us, which we judged according to their own merits rather than by a set of arbitrary guidelines.

‘In My Head I Carry My Own Zoo’ by Karen ­Holmberg is an expansive consideration of the work of British collagist John Digby. It’s a testament to ­Holmberg’s writing that I quickly went away and Googled Digby, taken by her descriptions of his art, which is no mean feat, but also the elusive portrait that she presents of Digby by weaving together her observations of him with his own words.

‘Grub: A Man in the Market’ by Garret Keizer is a personal essay about doing the weekly food shop. But of course the essay isn’t about that at all. ­Deceptively viii

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