BookTrust will today (9th November) present John Agard with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in London.
Agard, whose poems "Half Caste" and "Checking Out Me History" have been studied by thousands of students for their GCSEs, is the first poet to win the award, which is given to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to children’s literature.
“It means a lot to be given this award by BookTrust, an organisation which treasures books and tries to make them part of a life-enhancing experience for a child,” said Agard. “It excites me that I’m the first poet to win. I feel happy that I’ve stuck with this craft since I was a 16-year-old boy writing in a classroom in a Caribbean ex-colony. It’s not just me receiving this award, but all the people that inspired me. People like my teacher Father Maxwell, the people who published my books, those who contributed to my journey way back in the Caribbean, and John Arlott, the legendary cricket commentator who inspired me with his words.
“This thing called poetry has power and I still get excitement from language. I find joy in standing in front of people and reading a poem. I know this thing connects. This thing could touch a soul. This thing doesn't have to be didactic; I don't have to preach to people. My whole brain is on a tidal wave of delight.”
Agard was born in 1949 in British Guiana, now Guyana, and worked as a teacher, and in a library and for a newspaper, before moving to England in 1977. He became a touring lecturer for the Commonwealth Institute to promote a better understanding of Caribbean culture. Over a period of eight years he visited 2,500 schools and realised poetry was a way to inspire the children he met.
He has published more than 50 books, including poetry, stories and non-fiction, and in 2012 he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry.
The judges for this year’s award included BookTrust c.e.o. Diana Gerald and authors Candy Gourlay and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Journalist Nicolette Jones, who chaired the panel, said Agard has helped change the scope of children’s literature.
“He revels in a range of language from the everyday to the specialist, embracing the possibilities of English, and bringing sources we might think of as rarefied—Dante, the Greek myths, scientific terminology—into the experience of all youngsters,” Jones said. “As a performer and as a writer, he has spread his enthusiasm and his joyous delight in words and stories to his audiences for decades and opened doors for them all as readers and writers. His work is full of fun, but it also tells young people that nothing is too ambitious for them to engage with.”
Next year Hachette Children's Group (HCG) will publish a new collection of poetry by Agard, entitled Follow That Word. The book is a "riotously funny" collection of more than 60 poems that will make readers "think, laugh and dream", said HCG. It will be illustrated by Momoko Abe.
HCG acquired world rights from Caroline Sheldon as part of a previous two-book deal, struck in 2015.
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