Alison Light has won this year's £3,000 PEN Ackerley Prize 2020 for her memoir A Radical Romance (Fig Tree).
The award is the UK’s only literary prize dedicated to memoir and autobiography. Light's book explores how she met social historian Raphael Samuel in London in 1986 and married him a year later, and their relationship until his death 10 years later.
Two other books were shortlisted for the prize: Edward Parnell’s Ghostland (William Collins) and George Szirtes’ The Photographer at Sixteen (MacLehose).
Peter Parker, chair of the judges, said: “A Radical Romance is not only an extremely frank account of a love affair and marriage between two people who came to left-wing politics through very different routes, and were instrumental in rethinking the way in which we view and record history; it also provides a vivid and funny picture of a less-than-comfortable life in a tumble-down Georgian house in Spitalfields, while all around them developers had begun swallowing up the area.
“Finally, Light weaves into her narrative a fascinating enquiry into both memory and the memoir form. All these elements combined to make this thoughtful, moving and beautifully written book our unanimous choice as this year’s winner.”
Light said: “I am absolutely delighted to win this prize and to be in such good company: my fellow nominees, the judges who are writers themselves, and from an organisation devoted to writers and to campaigning for freedom of expression.”
Daniel Gorman, director of English PEN, added: “I’d like to congratulate this year’s PEN Ackerley Prize winner Alison Light, and I encourage everyone to read her beautiful memoir A Radical Romance. It's an honour for us to bestow this prize in memory of a great writer and free thinker, J R Ackerley. We're extremely proud of its reputation for celebrating the very best memoir and autobiography, the only prize of its kind in the UK.”
Parker also paid tribute to Colin Spencer, who is retiring as a judge this year after being involved in all of the 38 years since the prize's inception.