Writer development organisation Spread the Word is launching a new nationwide Life Writing Prize, thanks to a donation from writer Joanna Munro and partnership support from Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, the Royal Society of Literature and Arvon.
The year 2017 will mark the first of this five-year scheme designed to boost opportunities for life writers within the literary prize circuit. The prize is worth £1,500 to the winner, who will also receive a week’s Arvon residential retreat, two-years’ membership to the Royal Society of Literature and a meeting with an agent or editor (as appropriate). Two highly commended writers will receive £500 and a session with a mentor.
On the inaugural judging panel are: Blake Morrison, author and professor of Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University; Katy Massey, writer and researcher specialising in life writing and non-fiction; and Margaret Stead, publishing director at Atlantic Books.
Munro said she hoped it "encourages people to pick up their pen or their laptop and write about their lives", and for life writing to be viewed "more broadly". The sentiment was echoed by the judging panel, with Morrison praising the genre as "increasingly important", shown, as Stead remarked, by critical acclaim for books such as Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk (Vintage).
Morrison said: “Life writing has a long and distinguished history and has become an increasingly important genre in recent years - the primary means whereby authors (often first-time authors) tell their own stories, or the stories of their families, or the stories of people who matter to them. The creation of this prize is a terrific initiative and I look forward to being one of the judges in its inaugural year.”
Massey said: “This is excellent encouragement for novice writers to pursue what is, after all an extraordinarily popular form for both reader and writers. It's great that Spread the Word has started this competition and I am very proud to be judging it.”
Stead added: “In recent years there has been a stronger understanding of life writing as a literary form in its own right, and the Samuel Johnson prize (now Baillie Gifford) has had works of creative life writing on its shortlist over the past few years – the most obvious being winner H is for Hawk. However there has perhaps been a general tendency to regard it as less ‘serious’ than other forms of non-fiction, and so a prize for life writing will showcase its range and variety, demonstrating how rich and innovative it can be."
“Spread the Word exists to help writers make their mark on the page, the screen and in the world," Spread the Word director Ruth Harrison said. "We're very excited to be launching this new national Life Writing Prize in partnership with Goldsmiths' University and to discovering and showcasing some of the best life writing happening in the UK by emerging talented writers. We would especially like to thank Joanna Munro whose generous support of the Prize over the next five years will help us to help writers establish their writing careers and gain a readership for their work.”
The Life Writing Prize will open for entries on Friday 25th November for 10 weeks, closing on 3rd February 2017. The Prize is free to enter in its inaugural year. The word limit is 5,000 words and all submissions, to be made via the Spread the Word website, must be unpublished.
The inaugural Life Writing Prize-winners will be announced in May 2017 at a special event at Goldsmiths University.