Damian Barr, Catherine Cho and Frances Wilson to judge Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize 2021


Now in its fifth year, the Life Writing Prize, in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, will open for entries at midday on Monday 2nd November. The Prize was established to find and develop the best life writing from emerging writers who have yet to publish a full-length work or have a literary agent. It is generously funded by Joanna Munro.

Since launching in 2016, the Life Writing Prize has led to a number of publishing successes. Notably, Thin Places, the debut by Kerri ní Dochartaigh, highly commended in 2017, will be published by Canongate in January 2021 and Xanthi Barker, highly commended in 2018, has developed her piece into a memoir, Will This House Last Forever, which will be published by Tinder Press in June 2021.

Damian Barr said: “I look forward to working with the other judges to find some thrilling new voices and help them get heard. Memoir has a unique power for writers and readers – it is an engine of empathy. Now more than ever we need to build bridges between seemingly disparate communities and cultures.”

Catherine Cho said: “Life writing is a window into someone else’s life – it uses storytelling to connect the personal to the universal, to share experience in a way that’s intimate and revealing. I am excited to read the entries and to be part of a prize that recognises the power of storytelling.”

Frances Wilson said: “I am excited and honoured to be judging the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize in its fifth year. Life-writing is still in its nascent phase, and I’m looking forward to finding new voices and being taken to places I’ve not been to before.”

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 challenging and 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 2020. 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: “Sometimes comic, sometimes sad, but always inventive, the best life writing tells it like it is. It puts us in healing touch with others. It reports on experience from the front line, whether the office, the kitchen or the bedroom. It brings us voices that too often are marginalised, truths that too often don’t get heard. And, like the Goldsmiths/Spread the Word Life Writing Prize, it is open to everyone, whatever their background or experience.”

The Prize is free to enter. Twelve writers will be longlisted and offered publication on the Spread the Word website, and in a 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 £1,500, 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 each receive £500 and mentoring.

All 12 longlisted writers will be invited to attend and read from their work at a special Prize celebration event in June 2021 subject to Covid-19 guidance.