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Alan Johnson wins Ondaatje Prize
20.05.14 | Benedicte Page
Alan Johnson's childhood memoir This Boy (Bantam Press) has won the £10,000 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.
The award is given for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry which evokes the "spirit of a place". This Boy was described by judge Jenny Uglow as "a scrupulous but moving memoir of a particular area of London, with its boundaries, streets, people and poverty – you can see, and almost smell every room – which also captures the elusive spirit of place that imprints itself on a child, and is never forgotten."
Accepting the award at a dinner at the Travellers Club in London SW1 yesterday (19th May), Johnson, a Labour politician and former Home Secretary, commented: "I tried to recapture North Kensington from 'Notting Hill' - Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant were not often seen down our way. People lived 16 in a house, but you were forced into a community and looking after people who couldn't look after themselves." He added: "It has been amazingly rewarding to write a book that has been well received."
A L Kennedy, who judged the award alongside Uglow and Imtiaz Dharker, paid tribute to the entire prize shortlist, which also comprised Nadeem Aslam's The Blind Man's Garden (Faber), Patrick Barkham's Badgerlands (Granta), Mark Dapin's Spirit House (Tuskar Rock/Atlantic), Tim Dee's Four Fields (Jonathan Cape) and Esther Woolfson's Field Notes from a Hidden City (Granta), saying they were "each incredibly valuable, interesting, humane and enthusiastic." She added: "I've been constantly phoning people up and saying, 'You have to read this'."