Orwell Foundation to launch political fiction prize

Thursday 25 October 2018

The Orwell Foundation will launch a political fiction prize in November, to be awarded for the first time in June 2019. The new prize will reward outstanding novels and collections of short stories first published in the UK that illuminate major social and political themes, present or past, through the art of narrative.

To be named The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, the prize will be sponsored by the Orwell estate’s literary agency, A. M. Heath, which celebrates its centenary next year, and George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. The Foundation, which is based at UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies, will work closely with the Department of English Language and Literature at UCL, who will also nominate one of the prize’s four judges.

The Orwell Book Prize, which was previously for both non-fiction and fiction, will be renamed The Orwell Prize for Political Writing and will be open to non-fiction only.

Both prizes are worth £3,000 each to the winners and will be awarded annually on or around the anniversary of George Orwell’s birth, 25 June. The Orwell Foundation’s prizes, which also include awards for journalism and for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils, reward work which come closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’.

The four judges of The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, one of whom will represent the English department of University College London, will be announced at The Orwell Lecture 2018, given this year by the prizewinning writer, Kamila Shamsie, on 13 November at UCL. The lecture, entitled ‘Unbecoming British’, will explore ‘citizenship, migration and the transformation of rights into privileges’. Kamila Shamsie will examine the cost of the attempt to move citizenship from a protected legal status to a privilege, and asks if it creates a two-tiered system of citizenship.

The lecture will be preceded by ‘Orwell’s Last Notebook’, an event held in collaboration with UCL’s Special Collections, offering exclusive access to the Orwell Archive and insights from Orwell’s biographer, D J Taylor, as well as an Orwell Youth Prize writing workshop with Sixth Form students from across London.

Jean Seaton, Director of The Orwell Foundation, said:

“Orwell’s fables and fictions still offer disturbing insights into modern life. So it is thrilling to be able to launch a new Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. We are in debt to the vision and generosity of Orwell’s son Richard Blair and his agent A. M. Heath for sponsoring this new prize. Right now we need all the truth-telling in as many forms as we can get.”

Bill Hamilton, Managing Director of A. M. Heath, added:

“In 2019 the literary agency A M Heath is marking its centenary at the heart of London’s literary life by investing in writers, both established ones and the next generation. The major donation we are making is in honour of the most important novelist at the heart of our business: George Orwell, best known of course for the two novels that define the 20th Century: Animal Farm and 1984. What could be more appropriate in a new age of political turmoil than a fiction prize, run by the Orwell Foundation, to focus not just on fable and satire but on the underlying politics that animates all social relations. We are very proud to share this with Richard Blair, George Orwell’s adopted son, whose generosity to the Orwell Foundation has been essential to its growth over many years.”

Richard Blair, Orwell’s son, said:

“The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction is a logical development of the Orwell Foundation’s quest to promote his vision of a more just and transparent world, which he tried to communicate by raising ‘political writing to an art form’, and will encompass the broad spectrum of Orwell’s beliefs.”