RSL Ondaatje Prize

The annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

RSL Ondaatje Prize 2022

We are now closed for entries to the 2022 RSL Ondaatje Prize. The winner will be announced in May.

The judges are Sandeep Parmar (Chair), Patrice Lawrence, and Philippe Sands.


RSL Ondaatje Prize 2021 The Winner

Ruth Gilligan has won the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize with The Butchers (Atlantic Books).  The judges were Lola, Baroness Young of Hornsey (Chair), Helen Mort and Adam Rutherford.

‘I am just elated – and still totally shocked – to have won the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize. I am a sucker for books with a strong sense of place, so I have long been a huge fan of the Prize, but after a year of isolation and confinement, it feels more pertinent than ever to be celebrating the transportive power of reading. There were some absolute crackers on the shortlist, so I am truly honoured that the judges chose The Butchers. A million thanks; this really means an awful lot.’ Ruth Gilligan

‘Our winning title is about a moment in time, in a particular place. It’s been described in many different terms: Literary thriller, coming-of-age story, historical fiction, an account of superstition and the supernatural, but it doesn’t matter how it’s categorised – it’s a page-turning, roller coaster of a read. The humour works – we need relief from repressed emotional lives, and the slaughter of cows – and it lures us into recalling the recent past at a moment when ‘crisis’ was constantly on the lips of politicians and pundits alike – just like today.’ Lola Young, Baroness Young of Hornsey, Chair of 2021 Judges

Watch our announcement video, by Pei-Hsin Cho, here: 

Read the press release for more information.

If you have any media enquiries, please contact Kate Hassell, Bread and Butter PR: [email protected]

RSL Ondaatje Prize 2021 The Shortlist

The other shortlisted books:

Louise Hare  This Lovely City (HQ)

Adam Mars-Jones  Box Hill (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Nina Mingya Powles  Magnolia, 木蘭 (Nine Arches Press)

James Rebanks  English Pastoral (Allen Lane)

Francesca Wade  Square Haunting (Faber & Faber)

Watch our specially commissioned animations, by Pei-Hsin Cho, of the 2021 shortlist:

Please read the shortlist press release for further information.

You can purchase the winner, shortlist and longlist, and support us, as well as independent bookshops, through our shop.


RSL Ondaatje Prize 2021 The Longlist

James Boyce Imperial Mud (Icon Books)
Michael Crawley Out of Thin Air (Bloomsbury Sport)
Catherine Fletcher The Beauty and the Terror     (Bodley Head)
Michelle Gallen Big Girl, Small Town (John Murray)
Ruth Gilligan The Butchers (Atlantic Books)
Louise Hare This Lovely City (HQ)
Adam Mars-Jones Box Hill (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Caroline O’Donoghue Scenes of a Graphic Nature (Virago)
Nina Mingya Powles Magnolia, 木蘭 (Nine Arches Press)
James Rebanks English Pastoral (Allen Lane)
Gareth E. Rees Unofficial Britain (Elliott & Thompson)
Monique Roffey The Mermaid of Black Conch (Peepal Tree Press)
Francesca Wade Square Haunting
(Faber & Faber)

Please read the longlist press release for more information.


RSL Ondaatje Prize 2020

Roger Robinson won the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2020 with his collection A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press). Please read the Winner Press Release for further information.

‘Winning the RSL Ondaatje Prize is great on many levels. Gaining wider recognition for the political issues that are raised in A Portable Paradise is one of the most important things for me, alongside more people reading about the struggles of black communities in Britain which hopefully creates some deeper resonating empathy.’ Roger Robinson

Watch our specially commissioned animated video, by Liang-Hsin Huang, announcing the 2020 RSL Ondaatje Prize winner:

Past winners

2020 Roger Robinson A Portable Paradise
2019 Aida Edemariam The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History
2018 Pascale Petit Mama Amazonica
2017 Francis Spufford Golden Hill
2016 Peter Pomerantsev Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia
2015 Justin Marozzi Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood
2014 Alan Johnson This Boy
2013 Philip Hensher Scenes from Early Life
2012 Rahul Bhattacharya The Sly Company of People Who Care
2011 Edmund de Waal The Hare with Amber Eyes
2010 Ian Thomson The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
2009 Adam Nicolson Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History
2008 Graham Robb The Discovery of France
2007 Hisham Matar In the Country of Men
2006 James Meek The People’s Act of Love
2005 Rory Stewart The Places In Between
2004 Louisa Waugh Hearing Birds Fly