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The Ackerley Prize

The 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); biographer and critic Claire Harman and the writer and editor Michael Caines. Former judges include the novelist Francis King, the biographer Michael Holroyd, the editor of Ackerley’s letters, Neville Braybrooke, food writer and historian Colin Spencer, the biographer and historian Richard Davenport-Hines and the novelist and short story writer Georgina Hammick. 

The Prize’s long and successful partnership with English PEN, when it was known as the PEN Ackerley Prize has come to an end, and from this year it has reverted to its original name of the Ackerley Prize.

Press Release

Nancy Campbell wins the Ackerley Prize 2023 

for Thunderstone

 

– We are delighted to announce that Nancy Campbell has won the Ackerley Prize 2023 for Thunderstone: A true story of losing one home and discovering another (Elliott & Thompson). 

– The other two shortlisted books were Edward Chisholm’s A Waiter in Paris (Monoray) and Thea Lenarduzzi’s Dandelions (Fitzcarraldo Editions)


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

The winner of the prize, now in its 41st year, was announced at a special event featuring the shortlisted authors in conversation with the Chair of the judges, Peter Parker, at the London Review Bookshop on Thursday 28 September.

 

The PEN Ackerley Prize was established 41 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 Ackerley Prize is judged by biographer and historian Peter Parker (Chair), writer and editor Michael Caines, and writer and critic Claire Harman. The winner receives a cheque for £3,000. 

 

Nancy Campbell, winner of the Ackerley Prize 2023, said:

 

Thunderstone is a book I never expected to write, a private journal that has become the most public document. It's a book about a time I would never have dared to imagine living through. It is very humbling and even a little heartbreaking to receive such a prestigious accolade for a memoir describing days when, as carer for someone with aphasia, I grew ambivalent about the sound of my voice, questioned the power of words, and went through a deep crisis in my role as a writer. Thunderstone was always going to be a wild experiment, and I'm extremely grateful to my publishers, Elliott & Thompson, for daring to embark on this joyride.

 

To write a life is as much a collaborative exercise as living. Many writers and other friends appear in this book, and with great generosity allowed me to share their stories. Above all, my former partner Anna Zvegintzov , whose immense dignity in the toughest circumstances has taught me so much, as we emerge from pandemic losses into reconciliation with a new order.

For Thunderstone to be recognised by the judges of this year's Ackerley Prize means the world. I am still living in the caravan described in these pages, and now buckling down for a third winter in the woods. The prize money will make a significant contribution to my quality of life. For a start, I can invest in some driving lessons.
 

Peter Parker, Chair of the Judges, said:
 

The three books on this year’s very strong shortlist all share the virtues of J.R. Ackerley’s own autobiographical writings: they are skilfully constructed, absolutely candid and above all beautifully  written. We hope that by shortlisting them we will encourage people to buy and read all three books, but the winner of this year’s Ackerley Prize is Nancy Campbell’s Thunderstone. 

 

Nancy Campbell calls Thunderstone ‘a true story of losing one home and discovering another’. Largely written in the form of a diary, it describes how, in the wake of breaking up with her partner, she moves into a caravan parked beside a canal and a railway line on the fringes of Oxford. Here she finds a new community of people who, by accident or choice,  are living on the margins, and she observes them with a sharp but affectionate awareness of human foibles and frailty. Campbell writes fearlessly about what it means to love and lose both people and things, and how one survives this. Written with wit, grace, and a poet’s eye for detail, this is a wonderful book about the power of hope, and the consolations of small accomplishments and the natural world. 

 

The Ackerley Prize was first awarded in 1982. It was established in memory of Joe Randolph Ackerley, author of the classic autobiography My Father and Myself  and long-time editor of The Listener,  by his sister Nancy West. Ackerley’s posthumous royalties continue to provide capital for the prize. The winner receives a cheque for £3,000. Last year’s winner was Frances Stonor Saunders for The Suitcase (Jonathan Cape). Previous winners have included Claire Wilcox, Alison Light, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Richard Beard, Amy Liptrot, Alice Jolly, Sonali Deraniyagala, Duncan Fallowell, Miranda Seymour, Michael Frayn, Lorna Sage, Alan Bennett, Blake Morrison, Germaine Greer and John Osborne. A full list of past winners and further details about Ackerley’s life and work can be found at www.jrackerley.com.

Winners of the
Ackerley Prize

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Thunderstone

Nancy Campbell

Elliott & Thompson 2023

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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

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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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