Now in their sixth year, the RSL Literature Matters Awards aim to enable literary excellence and innovation, providing writers with financial support to undertake new literary projects that extend the reach of literature.

For the first time, eight projects from writers working across multiple disciplines and forms have been chosen by judges Polly Atkin, Alycia Pirmohamed and Charlie Swinbourne.

Congratulations to our 2023 winners:

Pragya Agarwal (£2,900). ‘Writing Eco-grief’ uses writing workshops and masterclasses to document the experience of living and parenting in the time of the anthropocene. Research shows that climate change is having an impact on mental health, with feelings of loss, helplessness, despair and guilt. Through this project, Pragya wants to help people articulate these feelings of bereavement for the planet, about the loss of home and sense of belonging, and the anxieties surrounding bringing up children or caring for the next generation in this period of immense global change.

On receiving the Award, Pragya said:

“As a behavioural and data scientist, I have been researching emotions associated with climate change over the last year or so, and the notion of eco-grief is still not understood very well outside a small academic community. This award validates and acknowledges the importance of an intersectional approach I take in my own writing, as well as giving me an opportunity to document the voices of many marginalised women, often most affected by climate change.”

Judge Polly Atkin said:

“This project offers a vital space of connection for people to come together to share thoughts and experiences of living through a time of climate crisis. The focus on global majority participants, people of all ages and backgrounds, and collaboration with scientists made this project stand out, bringing together different kinds of knowledge to make new work. The anthology will benefit both participants in workshops and readers far beyond them, drawing together more people and making a crucial resource in thinking about eco-grief.”

Susmita Bhattacharya (£2,300). ‘Flash Fusion: An Anthology and Craft Book of South Asian Flash Fiction’is a book showcasing the best of South Asian flash fiction, and includes interviews discussing the craft of writing flash fiction and prompts.. This diverse collection will serve not only readers, but also teachers who would like to diversify their reading and teaching practice.

On receiving the Award, Susmita said:

“Winning this award means the world to me. We can showcase the talent of South Asian flash fiction writers while also getting an insight into their writing process and craft. This award will help us build on raising the profile of these amazing writers and bringing their work, collated in a book, to a wider readership.”

Judge Alycia Pirmohamed said:

“Flash Fusion is a brilliant initiative that will publish conversations about craft alongside new flash fiction by South Asian writers. We’re excited to see this anthology platform a strong flash fiction writing community through its partnerships with Dahlia Publishing and Bristol’s Flash Fiction Festival.”

Rachael Boast (£3,000). ‘Apothecary: 100 Poems by Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent Poets’. International in scope, Apothecary is a poetry anthology which will showcase a selection of authors from the deaf, disabled and neurodivergent communities. The anthology will be published by Bloodaxe Books and complemented by online readings.

On receiving the Award, Rachael said:

“I am honoured to have been selected for this prestigious award and overjoyed by what it will allow me to do. I’m excited to move forwards with the anthology project, and very happy that I will be able to cover fees for the brilliant advocacy and advisory panel, along with BSL interpreters and captioning for online readings.”

Judge Charlie Swinbourne said:

“This felt like the next step in bringing the work of D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent poets to a wider audience, we loved the international scope of the project.”

Stephanie Conn (£2,500). ‘Living Illness, Writing Illness and Grief’ is a project combining literary essay, memoir, found texts and poetry, exploring the lived experience of illness and grief. How does one navigate the complexities of being chronically ill, a carer, bereaved? What spaces can the creative act of writing carve out? What experiences can different literary forms effectively hold?

On receiving the Award, Stephanie said:

“It is a great honour to have my work recognised and supported by the Royal Society of Literature. Writing tends to be a very solitary practice so it is always lovely to feel part of a wider like-minded group. It is encouraging too to receive support, through the Literature Matters Awards, from an organisation which celebrates writing of all kinds, promotes innovation and inclusivity, and values writers at all stages in their careers.”  

Judge Polly Atkin said:

“The questions behind this project – around what creative practice might look like when a writer is both a carer and ill themselves – are far reaching and timely. This is a personal writing project with universal application and relevance, interrogating how we live and how we work, and how the bodies we live in might direct the kind of work we make as well as the conditions we make it in.”

Gayathiri Kamalakanthan (£2,100). ‘Queering Lit Collective’  Queering Lit Collective is a creative writing space for trans and queer writers of colour offering workshops and low-pressure, non-generative time to allow writers to grow sustainably within a creative community. This project will facilitate a space where individuals can chat about process, publication, production and ‘all things getting paid’.

On receiving the Award, Gayathiri said:

“This award is validating. Trans and queer writers of colour who come to Queering Lit Collective will have time together as a community, where we don’t have to prove ourselves. My hope is for genuine connection which will sustain for years to come.”

Judge Polly Atkin said:

“The central premise of free workshops and connection events for trans people of colour seems particularly necessary at this time. This project had really thought through reaching different people in the community and making sure it is accessible to as many people as possible – both in-person and online. The focus on community and kinship as well as skills seems crucial to building a sustainable writing life in which the whole community can thrive creatively.”

Wanja Kimani (£1,500). ‘Weight of Shadows’ will be a chapbook of poetry based on poems that Wanja has been developing over the past few years. Whilst some of the poems have developed into visual artworks or films, others remain as text. She will be producing a chapbook to experiment with how the text can work independently.

On receiving the Award, Wanja said:

“As a visual artist, it’s fantastic for my work to be seen and supported through a literary lens. My work always begins in the written form so this award from the RSL is affirming.”

Judge Alycia Pirmohamed said:

“Weight of Shadows is a compelling writing project that is informed by multiple disciplines, such as filmmaking and textiles. We were drawn to the multifaceted nature of this project, and how these different strands beautifully weave together to centre an intersectional lived experience”.

Ellen Renton (£2,900). ‘The PALS workshop series’ is a series of workshops that will seek to engage blind and visually impaired young people in the act of writing creatively on the subject of friendship. A particular aim of the project is to open up conversation around the sometimes complex nature of relationships where access and care are significant factors. This series is part of a larger project – the creation of an accessible musical called PALS.

On receiving the Award, Ellen said:

“I’m delighted and honoured to be supported by the Literature Matters Awards in leading these workshops. I’m excited to work with this particular group and to see the writing that emerges from the project.”

Judge Charlie Swinbourne said: “A really exciting project with a focus on both the creators and the audience.”

Helen Thomas (£2,800). ‘SIMITY’ will be a project that blends poetry, dance and music to dramatise the migration of black subjects between British America, Sierra Leone, Nova Scotia and Britain through the eyes of its young, female slave protagonist SIMITY. Without slave narratives and other literary records, this history, these lives and these stories would be lost to the world.

On receiving the Award, Helen said:

“Working as an individual on a creative piece that evokes the histories of migrations of communities has severe limitations. This award will allow the magic to happen … that textured but invisible moment when audiences and artists collaborate and become connected to the past and their futures by words, movement, sound and breath.”

Judge Charlie Swinbourne said:

“We felt this was a really important project which will preserve and highlight stories that could otherwise be lost.”