Claire Wilcox has won the PEN Ackerley Prize 2021 for her "vivid" memoir Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes (Bloomsbury).
The £3,000 prize was established in memory of Joe Randolph Ackerley, the author and long-time literary editor of the Listener magazine, and is awarded annually to a literary autobiography of outstanding merit, written by an author of British nationality, and published in the UK in the previous year. Submissions were judged by historian Peter Parker, writer and editor Michael Caines, author Georgina Hammick and writer Claire Harman.
Commenting on her win, Wilcox said: "I want to thank everybody who has been involved, everyone at PEN, everybody who loves books, all the writers I admire—I think of this great legacy of language we all share and I’m immensely touched and honoured. Thank you."
Also shortlisted this year was Darran Anderson for Inventory: A River, A City, A Family (Chatto & Windus) and Jean Sprackland for These Silent Mansions: A Life in Graveyards (Jonathan Cape).
Chair of judges Parker said: "All three books achieved the same high standards that J R Ackerley did in his own autobiographical writings: imaginatively constructed, beautifully written and unafraid to confront sometimes uncomfortable personal truths. They each take the reader into the very different worlds of Derry during the Troubles, English graveyards, and the fashion collection at the V&A. These worlds may be particular to the authors, and have their own intrinsic interest for that reason; but they also reveal much about what we all share: family, love, loss, memory and the inexorable passing of time.
"In the end, however, it was not just the sheer quality of the writing, but the inventive and wonderfully aslant approach Claire Wilcox took to telling her own and other stories that made Patch Work this year’s winner.
"Claire Wilcox’s Patch Work is an ingeniously conceived account of ‘a life amongst clothes’. A curator of fashion at the V&A, the author uses items from the collection to tell individual stories and her experience of cataloguing them to suggest ways in which we arrange the facts and incidents of our lives. As its title suggests, the book is made up of vivid scraps skilfully stitched together to create a wonderfully glancing account of her life."
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