By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Initial Pool: 33 Memoirs and AutobiographiesJust when you think there couldn’t possibly be a book or publishing prize in England you haven’t heard of, you hear of another. Today (August 24), your surprise may be the Ackerley Prize, which is specialized in autobiography by British authors.
The program’s administrator is Peter Parker, who is also Ackerley’s biographer and chair of the Ackerley Memorial Trust. The program says that is the only British prize for autobiography. As many book and publishing awards as are operating in the United Kingdom, we think it’s best to attribute that assertion entirely to the award’s organizers.
Until this year, the program was known as the PEN Ackerley Prize administered by English PEN. It now is operated without that association.
The award was established in 1982 in memory of the eponymous writer and editor Joe Randolph (JR) Ackerley (1896-1967), best remembered as the longtime literary editor of the BBC magazine The Listener, and a member of a circle of literary homosexuals before London legalized homosexuality. Originally, the award’s purse was provided by Ackerley’s surviving sister, Nancy West, and now is funded by royalties paid for his books.
With a purse of £3,000 at the ready (US$3,782), the Ackerley is announcing its 2023 shortlist, mercifully an actually short list of only three titles. A winner is to be named on September 28 in a ticketed event at the London Review Bookshop in Bury Place. Tickets are selling at £10 each.
It’s interesting that the jury for the Ackerley calls in the books it considers—they are not nominated by publishers, as is the more common process. Currently, those jurors are Parker, who chairs the panel; Claire Harman, biographer and critic; and Michael Caines, a writer and editor.
The Ackerley Prize 2023 Shortlist
- Thunderstone: The True Story of Losing One Home and Discovering Another by Nancy Campbell (Elliott & Thompson, August 2022)
- A Waiter in Paris: Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City by Edward Chisholm (Hachette UK / Monoray, May 2022)
- Dandelions by Thea Lenarduzzi (Fitzcarraldo Editions, September 2022)
According to a statement from Parker, “This year, the judges called in 33 autobiographies and memoirs published in 2022—one fewer than last year.
“Over a period of five or so months we whittled down these books to twelve possible contenders for the prize. Then, during a long meeting in July, we reduced this dozen to a shortlist of three very different books that took us to the ragged fringes of Oxford, a chaotic restaurant in Paris, and a family home in north-east Italy. What they share is literary excellence and vivid evocations of people and places.”
Past winners of the Ackerley include Alan Bennett, Michael Frayn, Blake Morrison, Jenni Diski and Anthony Burgess.
In 2022, the PEN Ackerley Prize was won by Francis Stonor Saunders for The Suitcase: Six Attempts to Cross a Border (Penguin Books/Jonathan Cape, February 2022).