FutureBook Person of the Year—Kit de Waal

When Philip Jones did a call-out for nominations for the 2019 Futurebook Person of the year, just one name leapt to mind.

Some authors write books which change people’s perceptions about cultural or social issues. Other authors hold out their hand to help lift up the next generation of writers. Some authors use their public platform to campaign for greater diversity across the publishing industry. Others put their hands in their pockets to help fund courses for aspiring writers and widen access to the publishing world. A handful of authors set up new initiatives, and are entrepreneurial with their creativity.

This year’s recipient of the FutureBook Person of the Year award does all those things, and so much more.

Kit de Waal is both a force for change and a force for good. Her debut novel, My Name is Leon, became one of the standout novels of the year in 2016 – being shortlisted for both the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Costa Debut Novel Award, as well as being highly acclaimed in the press. And yet, rather than rest on the laurels of her success, Kit recognised that here was an industry ripe for change.

Many of us might talk about the need to open up access to the publishing world to people from a more diverse range of backgrounds. Kit is one of the few people who has actually done something about it: not with the weight of an organisation or a publishing house behind her, but through her own drive and vision.

Her establishment of the Kit de Waal Scholarship for the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck—funded by Kit herself—was aimed squarely at applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. As one writer commented on Twitter when Kit announced the bursary: "Opportunities like this are the reason I do not give up on dreams." It’s no surprise that BBC Radio 4 commissioned her to write and present a documentary entitled ‘Where Are All the Working Class Writers?’

2019 has been a particularly busy year for Kit. Together with seventeen other women, including Sandi Toksvig, Catherine Mayer and Jude Kelly, Kit co-founded Primadonna, a brand new literary festival with an emphasis on female writers and new voices. She also crowd-funded and edited Common People, an anthology of literature from working class writers, both established and new, including Damian Barr, Lisa McInerney and Malorie Blackman. And most recently she has been a member of the BBC panel selecting the 100 Novels That Shaped Our World, part of the BBC’s year-long festival of literature.

Inclusive, impassioned, indomitable: Kit de Waal is a voice that our industry desperately needs, and a voice that writers of the future are lucky to have in their corner. I cannot think of a more worthy recipient of this year’s award.