The Orwell Prizes are the UK’s most prestigious prizes for political writing. Every year, The Orwell Foundation awards prizes for the work which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’.
We currently award four prizes:
- The Orwell Prize for Political Writing
- The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction
- The Orwell Prize for Journalism
- The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils
In November 2018 the Foundation launched a new prize for political fiction, The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, to be awarded for the first time in June 2019. Therefore, entries for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019 are restricted to works of non-fiction.
The Orwell Prizes aim to encourage good writing and thinking about politics. The winning entries should strive to meet Orwell’s own ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’. They should be of equal excellence in style and content – the writing must be both political and artful – and live up to the values of The Orwell Foundation.
The prizes for books and journalism were originally established by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick in 1994, ‘to encourage writing in good English – while giving equal value to style and content, politics or public policy, whether political, economic, social or cultural – of a kind aimed at or accessible to the reading public, not to specialist or academic audiences.’
Judges are appointed each year, with a separate panel for each prize, and the decisions they make are theirs alone: the Foundation which administers the prizes and its sponsors have no role in decision making. Judges are asked to be as objective as possible and put their own political views aside; they are also asked to take into account Orwell’s values for inspiration.
The Foundation is grateful to its partners and sponsors, whose support secures the continued existence of the prizes.
How the Prizes Work
The prize year runs from autumn to June. Each year features five ‘milestones’: the launch and opening of submissions; the closing of submissions; the longlist announcement; the shortlist announcement; and the announcement of the winner.
The opening of submissions, traditionally marked by a launch debate or lecture, happens in late autumn. The Foundation aims to tell as many publishers, editors and journalists as possible: please subscribe to our mailing list for the latest updates or contact the relevant member of staff to be added to the individual call for entry lists.. Journalists can be entered by themselves or their editors; authors should consult with their publisher. There are no entry fees, and no restrictions on how many entries any organisation (publisher or news outlet) may enter, though publishers whose books are shortlisted for the book Prizes are asked to make a contribution of £150 to support promotion and marketing for each book published.
The longlists (nominally twelve entries but subject to the discretion of the judges) are publicly announced in spring, followed a few weeks later by the shortlists (six in each category), traditionally at a shortlist debate or lecture. The winners are announced at a public awards ceremony in the summer, where the judges may also opt to award a special prize at their discretion.
Please be aware that that opening and closing dates are subject to variation across the Prizes.
The Orwell Prize for Political Writing
The Orwell Prize for Political Writing (previously, Orwell Prize for Books) is for a work of non-fiction, whether a book or pamphlet, first published in the UK or Ireland in the calendar year preceding the year of the Prize. ‘Political’ is defined in the broadest sense, including (but not limited to) entries addressing political, social, cultural, moral and historical subjects and can include pamphlets, books published by think tanks, diaries, memoirs, letters and essays.
The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction
The Orwell Foundation launched a political fiction prize in November 2018, which was awarded for the first time in June 2019. This prize rewards 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.
The prize is sponsored by the Orwell estate’s literary agency, A. M. Heath, and George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. The Foundation, which is based at UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies, works closely with the Department of English Language and Literature at UCL, who also nominate one of the prize’s four judges.
The Orwell Book Prize, which was previously for both non-fiction and fiction, was renamed The Orwell Prize for Political Writing and is open to non-fiction only.
The Orwell Prize for Journalism
The Orwell Prize for Journalism is awarded to a journalist for sustained reportage and/or commentary working in any medium.
A submission should consist of three articles. This might consist of, for example, three printed articles, three television or radio broadcasts or a combination of different media. As of 2020, one article may be self-published on a blogging or micro-blogging site (for example, a Twitter thread). There should be a written element to all articles (broadcasts must be accompanied by transcripts) and entrants may include work published by different organisations.
The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils
In 2014, The Orwell Prize and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils, a new social issues journalism prize.
Named in recognition of the task Joseph Rowntree gave his organization ‘to search out the underlying causes of weakness or evil’ that lay behind Britain’s social problems, the prize supports and encourage original, insightful, and impactful reporting on social issues in the UK.
In addition to the Prize, The Orwell Prize, together with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), are delivering the Unreported Britain Project as one part of the work of the new JRF-sponsored Prize “The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils”.
Entries should consist of a story that has enhanced the public understanding of social problems and public policy in the UK. The story must be clearly and primarily concerned with an aspect of UK society. Entry is free and there are no charges at any point. A single author, or small group of authors may enter.
Rewarding innovative journalism, the prize welcomes reporting that extends the reach of traditional media. Entries may be communicated across any of the following platforms:
- Journalistic writing (online or in print)
- Video content
- Audio content (including radio programmes, podcasts, audio reports)
- Social media content (for example, reporting via Twitter)
“The Orwell Prize is the prize for political writing, the one you really covet as an author, and getting the Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils feels a wonderful affirmation, especially if you are reporting from outside the Westminster bubble.”