PEN Ackerley Prize

The PEN Ackerley Prize is awarded each year to a volume of autobiography by a British author. It was founded in 1982 in memory of the writer and editor J.R. Ackerley. Originally endowed by his sister Nancy West,  it is now funded by the royalties received for  Ackerley’s books, and remains the only British prize for autobiography. 

The judges do not accept submissions by publishers but call in books themselves, and are looking for ones that display the high standards Ackerley himself set in My Dog Tulip and My Father and Myself-  enquiring, absolutely candid and, above all, very well written. 

The judges are the Trustees of J.R. Ackerley Memorial Trust are all themselves writers, currently Ackerley’s biographer, Peter Parker (chair); the playwright, food writer and historian Colin Spencer; the novelist and short story writer Georgina Hammick; and the biographer and critic Claire Harman. Former judges include the novelist Francis King, the biographer Michael Holroyd, the editor of Ackerley’s letters, Neville Braybrooke, and the biographer and historian Richard Davenport-Hines. 

Press Release

Frances Stonor Saunders wins the PEN Ackerley Prize 2022 for The Suitcase: Six Attempts to Cross a Border (Jonathan Cape), ‘a subtle and profoundly moving meditation on borders and belonging, nationality and displacement’ 

The other two shortlisted books were Arifa Akbar, Consumed: A Sister’s Story(Sceptre) and Roy Watkins, Simple Annals: A Memoir of Early Childhood (CB Editions)

The PEN Ackerley Prize is the UK’s only literary prize dedicated to memoir and autobiography 

The winner of the prize, which celebrates its 40th year in 2022, was announced at a special event featuring the shortlisted authors in conversation with the Chair of the judges, Peter Parker, at The London Library on Thursday 14 July, as part of the ongoing partnership between English PEN and The London Library.

The PEN Ackerley Prize was established 40 years ago in memory of Joe Randolph Ackerley (1896–1967), the author and long-time literary editor of The Listener magazine. The prize is awarded annually to a literary autobiography of outstanding merit, written by an author of British nationality, and published in the UK in the previous year.

The PEN Ackerley prize is judged by biographer and historian Peter Parker (Chair), writer and editor Michael Caines, author Georgina Hammick, and writer and criticClaire Harman. The winner receives a cheque for £3,000.

Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN, said:

‘Our congratulations to Frances Stonor Saunders who has won this year’s PEN Ackerley Prize for her captivating memoir tracing her family history across borders. Thank you to all the shortlisted authors for their remarkable works and to The London Library for hosting such a fascinating panel discussion. It’s an honour for us to bestow this prize in the name of writer J R Ackerley, and we are delighted to celebrate his memory as we mark 40 years of the Ackerley Prize.’

Peter Parker, Chair of the Judges, said: 

‘The books on this year’s shortlist took us to many different places and covered a long period of time, but they are all concerned with relationships within families. Arifa Akbar describes the catastrophic effects of alienation and cultural dislocation on a family that moved from Lahore to London in the 1970s; Frances Stonor Saunders traced her father’s long journey as a boy escaping Bucharest during the Second World War to become a refugee in Turkey, Egypt, South Africa; and Roy Watkins transports us back to a vividly realized working-class childhood in Lancashire during the 1940s and ‘50s. Though these books are very different in their approach to the art and craft of autobiography, they are all distinguished by the sheer quality of their writing and story-telling. By shortlisting them, we hope to encourage people to buy and read all three books, but the winner of this year’s PEN Ackerley Prize is Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Suitcase.

Skillfully interweaving history and memoir, Stonor Saunders sets out in her outstandingly well-written book to discover more about the life of a father who had always seemed remote even before he slipped unreachably into the remote hinterland of Alzheimer’s. The Suitcase is not only a riveting and elegantly constructed detective story, but is a subtle and profoundly moving meditation on borders and belonging, nationality and displacement, and the far-reaching effects of major historical events upon the lives of individuals caught up in them.’

Click here to visit English PEN’s page

Winners of the

PEN Ackerley Prize

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The Suitcase

Frances Stonor Saunders

Jonathan Cape 2022

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The Terrible

Yrsa Daley-Ward

Penguin Books 2019

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Dead Babies and Seaside Towns

Alice Jolly

Unbound 2016

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Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt

Richard Holloway

Canongate Books 2013

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Direct Red

Gabriel Weston

Cape 2010

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Keeping Mum

Brian Thompson

Atlantic Books 2007

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Clouds of Glory-A Hoxton Childhood

Bryan Magee

Jonathan Cape 2004

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Bad Blood

Lorna Sage

4th Estate 2001

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True to Both My Selves

Kathrin Fitzherbert

Virago 1998

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Something in Linoleum

Paul Vaughan

Sinclair-Stevenson 1995

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Almost a Gentleman

John Osborne

Faber & Faber 1992

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The Grass Arena

John Healy

Faber & Faber 1989

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Time and Time Again

Dan Jacobson

Flamingo 1986

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Her People

Kathleen Dayus
Joint winner

Virago 1983

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Patch Work

Claire Wilcox

Bloomsbury 2021

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The Day That Went Missing

Richard Beard

Harvill Secker 2018

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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Henry Marsh

Weidnfeld & Nicolson 2015

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How to Disappear

Duncan Fallowell

Ditto Press 2012

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The Three of Us

Julia Blackburn

Vintage 2009

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Untold Stories

Alan Bennett

Faber & Faber 2006

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Stranger on a Train

Jenny Diski

Virago 2003

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Child of My Time

Mark Frankland

Sinclair-Stevenson 2000

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The Scent of Dried Roses

Tim Lott

Penguin Classics 1997

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And When Did You Last See Your Father?

Blake Morrison

Granta Books 1994

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St Martin's Ride

Paul Binding

Secker & Warburg 1991

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Little Wilson & Big God

Anthony Burgess

Penguin Books Ltd 1988

 

 

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Deceived with Kindness

Angelica Garnett

Harcourt 1985

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High Path

Ted Walker
Joint winner

Routledge & Kegan Paul 1983

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A Radical Romance

Alison Light

Fig Tree 2020

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The Outrun

Amy Liptrot

Canongate 2017

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Wave

Sonali Deraniyagla

Virago 2014

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My Father's Fortune

Michael Frayn

Faber & Faber 2011

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In My Father's House

Miranda Seymour

Simon & Schuster 2008

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Half An Arch

Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy

Timewell Press 2005

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Out of India: a Raj Childhood

Michael Foss

Michael O'Mara Books 2002

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Precious Lives

Margaret Forster

Vintge 1999

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The Railway Man

Eric Lomax

Vintage 1996

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More, Please

Barry Humphries

Viking 1993

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Daddy We Hardly Knew You

Germaine Greer

Randon House USA Inc 1990

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After a Funeral

Diana Athill

Hamish Hamilton 1987

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Still Life – Sketches from a Tunbridge Wells Childhood

Richard Cobb

Chatto & Windus 1984

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Shaky Relations

Edward Blishen

David & Charles 1982