RSL Literature Matters Awards

The RSL’s Literature Matters Awards aim to reward and enable literary excellence and innovation. Each year, after an open call for proposals, the Awards are given to individual writers or other literary creators, recognising their past achievements and providing them with financial support to undertake a proposed new piece of writing or literary project.

Launched as part of the RSL’s Literature Matters programme, priority will be given to proposals which (a) will help connect with audiences or topics outside the usual reach of literature, and/or (b) will help generate public discussion about why literature matters.

The 2020 Awards

We are delighted to announce the seven recipients of the RSL Literature Matters Awards 2020:

£3,000Charlotte Ansell and Janett PlummerChosen
Writing workshops, performance and pamphlet for Generation Z adopted young people.

£3,000Alison Armstrong The Lost Voices of Morecambe Winter Gardens
A play based on the real and fictional voices of characters that have worked and performed at Morecambe Winter Gardens. To be performed at the semi-derelict theatre.

£2,000Zillah Bowes and Jonathan EdwardsNight Riders
Documenting the experiences of passengers on the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff train line in a series of poems.

£3,800Judith Bryan and Carol RussellRaised Voices: recovering the voices and vision of black women playwrights over 45
A series of public script-in-hand play-readings at the Young Vic, showcasing new writing by black women playwrights over 45.

£2,700Eva Edo A Mother’s Courage
A play project inspired by the testimonials of mothers whose sons have been victims, perpetrators and survivors of youth violent crime and incarceration, and what it means raise sons of colour in British society today.

£2,500Jennifer Johnstone and Annie MacDonaldRadical Mountain Women
A podcast series exploring the beauty, strength and resilience of the relationship between women and the environment in rural Scotland. It will be published on the established podcast Stories of Scotland.

£3,000Rebecca SharpRough currency: the poetics of oil and the imagination
A hybrid poetic text for publication, exploring the imaginative properties of crude oil and its role in the world of ideas.

Please read the press release for further information.

Our 2020 judges are Tessa Hadley, David Morley and Roy Williams.

The 2019 Awards

The judges for 2019 were: Menna ElfynAbdulrazak Gurnah (chair), Barney Norris. The seven recipients of the 2019 RSL Literature Matters Awards were:

£3,000 – WILL EAVES and SOPHIE SCOTT – The Neuromantics
A monthly podcast of discussion and readings on the intersection of literature and neuroscience.

£3,500 – ROSEMARY HARRIS – Word Bridges

A series of creative writing workshops for young refugee and migrant participants, culminating in a live reading/performance.

£2,000 – MAB JONES – At the City’s Edge: The Wetlands of Wales

A podcast of poems, stories and sound art to explore the importance of the Welsh wetlands, which are now under threat.

£4,000 – WINNIE M LI and CLARE SHAW – Clear Lines: Writing About Trauma and Gender-Based Violence
A touring event of author readings, writing workshops and panel discussions, focusing on trauma and gender-based violence in novels, poetry, memoir, plays, and graphic literature.

£2,500 – GREGORY McCARTNEY– A Magazine for Revolution? An exploration of the Honest Ulsterman magazine
A print and online publication exploring different facets of the Northern Irish poetry magazine Honest Ulsterman magazine since its inception in 1968, inviting readers, writers, artists, editors and historians to compose a series of essays exploring the Honest Ulsterman and its context throughout its history.

£2,000 – SIAN NORTHEY – Food Bank Stories / Straeon y Banc Bwyd
Creation of a collection of short stories, in both Welsh and English, based on a residency at a food bank using techniques borrowed from verbatim theatre.

£3,000 – ALYCIA Pirmohamed and JAY G. YING – Scottish BAME Writers’ Group & Showcase
A series of writing workshops and two masterclasses for BAME writers in Scotland, culminating in a showcase event at the Scottish Poetry Library, where a pamphlet of work will be distributed. Building a network for writers of colour who are often isolated and under-represented in the literary community.

Please read the press release for more information.


The 2018 Awards

The judges for 2018 were: Jonathan Keates, Imtiaz Dharker and Gillian Slovo. The six recipients of the 2018 RSL Literature Matters Awards were:

£2,320 – MATT BRYDEN – Lost and Found
A pamphlet of poetry based on a residency at Bristol Temple Meads train station’s Lost Property Office. Matt Bryden is the author of Night Porter (Templar Poetry, 2010), which won the Templar Pamphlet prize in 2010, and of the collection Boxing the Compass (Templar Poetry, 2013). Matt says his Award provides ‘the boost of having my project recognised by writers I admire’.


£3,000 – MICHAEL CAINES – Brixton Review of Books
A free literary newspaper to be published and distributed on a regular basis. Michael Caines works at the Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). Michael says his Award will ‘make something that might have remained a pipe dream become a reality.’


£3,800 – KATE CLANCHY – The Young Person’s International Dictionary of Rare and Precious Words
Working with schoolchildren, especially those from disadvantaged and refugee backgrounds, to collect precious words for ‘dictionary’ entries and an anthologyKate Clanchy has won literary awards for her poetry, short stories, and non-fiction. For the last nine years she has been working in her local school, Oxford Spires Academy, to create a unique Poetry Hub. Kate says, ‘my work in school is always on a shoestring: this Award makes me feel much less financially pressured, and very much more valued.’


£2,800 – OWEN LOWERY – R. S. Thomas for a New Generation, The Poet Prevails
A production of poetry, music and film, inspired by the poetry of R. S. Thomas. Owen Lowery is a former British Judo champion, and tetraplegic. His work has appeared in PN Review, The Times, and the Guardian, and he has published two major collections, Otherwise Unchanged, (Carcanet, 2012), and Rego Retold (Carcanet, 2015). Owen says, ‘this will be the perfect opportunity for me to greatly extend the reach of my poetry, at the same time as raising awareness of the degree to which literature really does matter.’


£3,000 – PASCALE PETIT – Tiger Girl
A sequence of poems exploring foreignness, in the context of Brexit Britain and her grandmother’s Indian heritage.
Pascale Petit was born in Paris. Her seventh collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017), was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her sixth, Fauverie (Seren, 2014), was her fourth to be shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize, and five poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. In 2015 she received a Cholmondeley Award. Pascale says, ‘I especially appreciate having my project validated by the RSL, as a foreigner writing about Brexit and my French and Indian heritage.’

£5,000 – EVAN PLACEY – Cat A
A new stage play exploring dementia and ageing in prisons. Evan Placey is a Canadian-British playwright and screenwriter. His plays include Banana Boys (Hampstead Theatre), How Was It For You? (Unicorn Theatre) and Pronoun (National Theatre Connections). Awards include: Samuel French Canadian Play award (USA), Brian Way Award and Writers’ Guild Award (UK). Evan says, ‘receiving this award from the RSL has given me huge encouragement and will allow me to work with a marginalised demographic in prison to write a story that is often hidden.’

Please read the press release for more information.