Rapper 'Loki' takes the Orwell prize for 'heart-rending' poverty tale

Rapper 'Loki' takes the Orwell prize for 'heart-rending' poverty tale

Writer, rapper and community activist Darren McGarvey, also known as ‘Loki’, has won the Orwell Prize for Books for his "heart-rending" debut Poverty Safari (Luath Press).

The award was announced at the RSA on Monday (25th June) and came hours it was revealed the exploration of poverty through memoir, journalism and polemic will be republished by Picador in August.

McGarvey was presented with a cheque for £3,000 by Richard Blair, George Orwell’s son, on what would have been Orwell’s 115th birthday.

The award is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing and awarded by the Orwell Foundation each year to the book which comes closest to the English writer George Orwell’s ambition "to make political writing into an art."

Chair of judges, politician and writer Andrew Adonis, said: “George Orwell would have loved this book. It echoes Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier. It is heart-rending in its life story and its account of family breakdown and poverty. But by the end there is not a scintilla of self-pity and a huge amount of optimism.

He added: "It made me see the country and its social condition in a new light.”

Fellow judge, literary journalist and festival director Alex Clark, said: “What distinguishes Poverty Safari from a “straight” description of a working-class life is his searing examination of the narratives that surround poverty - and the way in which no individual, least of all him, can neatly be fitted into them.”

McGarvey grew up in Pollok. He is a writer, performer, community activist and columnist, and former rapper-in-residence at Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit. He was part of the Poverty Truth Commission that was hosted in Glasgow in 2009 and has presented eight programmes for BBC Scotland exploring the root causes of anti-social behaviour and social deprivation.

Poverty Safari has sold 13,424 print copies for £91,898 since November, according to Nielsen BookScan and has been lauded by J K Rowling and Irvine Welsh as well as Ken Loach, Paul Mason and Nicola Sturgeon.

Joining Adonis and Clark as judges were award-winning novelist Kit de Waal, and deputy life and arts editor of the Financial Times Lorien Kite.

Meanwhile Observer and Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr won the Orwell journalism prize for her investigation into the collapsed political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Last year's prize was taken by historian John Bew for his biography of former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, published by riverrun/Quercus.