The Spread the Word Life Writing Prize, in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, supports emerging writers and celebrates and develops life writing in the UK.
Selected from nearly 1000 entries by 2019 judges Colin Grant, Inua Ellams and Ros Barber, the 2019 Life Writing Prize winner is Charlotte Derrick for The Lady in Black. The announcement was made at Goldsmiths, University of London, at a special Prize event on Wednesday 15 May.
Inua Ellams said: “I loved, loved this… I haven’t heard a voice as clear and as sharp as this in a long time.”
Ros Barber said: “The piece is full of ‘Wow!’ moments: sentences and phrases that smack you in the face with their skill and directness.”
Colin Grant said: “There are unexpected qualities and turns throughout the piece which has the power to pull you into lives and experiences that feel almost too raw and tragic to venture into.”
The Prize rewards the winner with £1500, an Arvon course, two years membership to the Royal Society of Literature and development meetings with an agent and editor.
The Lady in Black was initially written as a way for Charlotte to process the grief of her partner’s suicide. She had no intention of showing it to anyone until a friend found it on her laptop and insisted she submitted it into the world because of the lack of writing about losing a same-sex partner.
Charlotte Derrick said: “I’m still in shock that I’ve won. I’m not someone who has a lot of confidence in their writing. There are so many talented writers out there. How am I supposed to compete with that? But winning the Prize has helped me realise that I’m just as capable as those writers, and I can’t express how grateful I am for that.”
Two writers were highly commended for the Prize: Alison Marr for Fat Baby, and Helen Longstreth for The Joy of Cooking. They will each receive £500, a writing mentor and sessions with an agent and an editor.
Alison Marr said: “It feels gratifying to be highly commended for the Life Writing Prize – writing is hard, lonely work, beset with constant doubt so it’s great to be validated.”
Helen Longstreth said: “As a writer just starting out, it is hugely encouraging, especially bearing in mind that was so difficult to write, and on a subject so close to my heart. At the same time it feels strange winning a commendation for a piece that came out of my dad’s struggles with alcoholism. In writing it I wanted to try and understand him better – to paint a picture that held together all the tangled strands of love and pain, the good with the bad. So I’m glad that in doing this I’ve written something that spoke to others and hope that it also does him justice.”
Three shortlisted entries were:
This is the house my father built by Sulaxana Hippisley
William and the Ham by Laurane Marchive
When Silence is King by Oluwafunmilayo Adewale.
Six longlisted pieces were:
Hometown Legacy by Aisling Twomey
As Expected by Madeline Cross
Undertow by Roisin Maguire
neater by K Devan
Four Memories of a Berlin Summer by Sam Hampson
A Secondary School Education by Leke Apena.
All the top twelve entries are available to read online in the Life Writing Prize 2019 Showcase: https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/life-writing-prize-2019-showcase-read-the-top-twelve-entries-here/
Spread the Word is grateful to our Life Writing Prize donor, Joanna Munro, for making the Prize happen, to our partners Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, to the top twelve writers for sharing their personal stories in such surprising and engaging ways, and to everyone who entered the Prize this year.
The Life Writing Prize 2019-2020 will open in November 2019.
Published 15 May 2019