Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize 2020 opens for submissions

Monday 4 November

  • Kerry Hudson, Nell Stevens and Sathnam Sanghera to judge
  • 12 longlisted writers to showcase work at Foyles, London
  • Winner’s prize includes £1,500 and Arvon course

@STWevents #LifeWritingPrize

Spread the Word’s annual writing competition – the Life Writing Prize – opens for submissions today, Monday 4 November.

Now in its fourth year, the Life Writing Prize, in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, was established to find and develop the best life writing from emerging writers from across the UK. The Prize defines life writing as ‘intended to be true’ – work that reflects someone’s own life journey or experiences through non-fiction.

The competition, which is free to enter, is open to writers who have yet to publish a full-length work or have a literary agent. It is generously funded by Joanna Munro.

This year’s judges are the writers Kerry Hudson and Nell Stevens, and Sathnam Sanghera, an award-winning columnist and feature writer for The Times.

Spread he Word Judges

Others supporting the Prize this year include writer Max Porter; Colin Grant, historian, writer and producer, and Kerri ní Dochartaigh, whose work was highly commended in the inaugural Life Writing Prize in 2017. They will mentor the winning and commended writers.

Ruth Harrison, Director of Spread the Word said: “We are excited to be working with the judges and Goldsmiths’ Writers Centre on this year’s Life Writing Prize. In these changing times, it is more urgent than ever that we get to hear people’s own stories from across our communities to start creating new understandings and connections. The Prize shows that life writing is a vital and dynamic literary form with nearly 1,000 submissions being received from across the UK in 2019. We are looking forward to not only supporting and celebrating up and coming writers but also to reading and hearing stories that often go unheard.”

Blake Morrison, Professor of Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London and patron of the Life Writing Prize, added: “In the era of fake news, life writing has never been more important. Its premise is truth-telling. And it’s a way for voices we’re not used to hearing – voices from the margins and fringes – to make themselves heard. No literary genre is more democratic. And with democracy under threat, that lends it even more potency. Anyone with an experience to relate (who doesn’t have an experience to relate?) should think of entering the Prize. Young or old: it doesn’t matter. A slice of life, brilliantly recaptured; fresh ideas and unfamiliar narratives; stories that compel through the quality of their writing – those are what count.”

Sathnam Sanghera said: “I think it was CS Lewis who said that “we read to know we’re not alone”. Life writing is a segment of literature where people write to know they’re not alone, and it’s great there is a prize to recognise its importance.”

Nell Stevens said: “Life writing is slippery, intimate and various, constantly shedding its own skin, becoming new all over again. The Life Writing Prize is a thrilling opportunity for us to discover writers who reinvent, rejuvenate and reinforce the flexibilities and complexities of the genre. I am as excited to read so-called ‘ordinary’ stories that reveal the extraordinary in the everyday as I am to read accounts of unusual or extreme experiences.”

Twelve writers will be longlisted and offered publication on the Spread the Word website, and offered publication in a new Life Writing Prize booklet designed to showcase the Prize’s top writers to the literary world.

The winner of The Life Writing Prize will receive £1500, an Arvon course, a writing mentor, two years’ membership of the Royal Society of Literature and an optional development meeting with an agent and editor. Two highly commended writers receive a writing mentor and £500.

All 12 longlisted writers will be invited to attend and read from their work at a special Prize celebration event at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London in June 2020.

Since launching in 2016, the Life Writing Prize has led to a number of publishing successes. Notably, Thin Places, the debut by 2017 commended writer and 2020 mentor Kerri ní Dochartaigh, will be published by Canongate in Spring 2021.