The UK’s Ackerley Prize for Autobiography Names Its 2023 Shortlist

In News by Porter Anderson

The former PEN Ackerley Prize is specialized in autobiography and is to name its 2023 winner on September 28 in London.

Image: Ackerley Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Initial Pool: 33 Memoirs and Autobiographies
Just 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.

JR Ackerley

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

Peter Parker

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).

​More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing prizes is here, more on autobiography and memoir is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.