Less than a month after its shortlist was revealed, the 2014 Orwell Prize for political writing has gone to Labour MP Alan Johnson for his memoir This Boy. The former home secretary’s account of his early childhood took the £3,000 prize, only days after winning the £10,000 Ondaatje Prize. In a head-to-head battle of ideologies, Johnson’s book beat Charles Moore’s Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, as well as Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman, Frank Dikötter’s The Tragedy of Liberation, James Fergusson’s The World’s Most Dangerous Place and David Goodhart’s The British Dream.
Sue McGregor, one of the three judges on the Orwell’s panel (alongside Robert McCrum and Trevor Philips), described Johnson’s book as ‘a tale told without a trace of self-pity, but with great grace and good humour, of what it was like growing up poor in a single-parent family in post-War Britain. It is at once deeply personal and nationally significant, and a highly engaging read.’
The prize for journalism went to The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, ahead of fellow nominees James Astill, Aditya Chakrabortty, Jonathan Freedland, AA Gill, Gideon Rachman and Mary Riddell. Abdul-Ahad’s Guardian colleague Jonathan Freedland was presented with a special award, having been nominated for the Orwell seven times previously.
The prize also took the occasion of its 21st anniversary to announce several new ventures: the Orwell Youth Prize will be open to exam-age high school students in a bid to encourage them to become involved with politics, while the new online publication Encountering Orwell will collect their experiences of reading Orwell from writers including Peter Hitchens, Boyd Tonkin and David Hare.
It is also, in conjunction with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, launching another journalism prize, the self-explanatory Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Claire Ainsley says of the prize: ‘Journalism has always played a role in uncovering inconvenient truths. It feels timely to establish an award that rewards, encourages and supports original, in-depth journalism. Journalism that reflects and exposes the reality of people’s lives, and has impact on the UK’s social problems.’
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
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