News ID: 314259
Published: 0241 GMT June 26, 2021

Ali Smith wins Orwell prize for novel taking in COVID-19 and Brexit

Ali Smith wins Orwell prize for novel taking in COVID-19 and Brexit

Ali Smith won the Orwell prize for political fiction for ‘Summer,’ a novel written at speed last year, which judges described as “a time-capsule which will prove to be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the mood of Britain during this turbulent time”.

The Scottish author came up with her project to write four political novels in real time back in 2015, starting with ‘Autumn’. Smith began writing ‘Summer,’ the final book in her ‘Seasonal Quartet,’ in January 2020 and it was published in August. The novel includes references to COVID-19, Australian wildfires, Brexit and the murder of George Floyd, wrote.

Smith’s ‘Summer’ beat titles including Colum McCann’s ‘Apeirogon’ and Akwaeke Emezi’s ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ to the £3,000 prize, which goes to the work of fiction that comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition “to make political writing into an art”.

The judges, headed by former Orwell prize winner Delia Jarrett-Macauley, said that ‘Summer’ seals Smith’s reputation “as the great chronicler of our age”.

“Capturing a snapshot of life in Britain right up until the present day, Smith takes the emotional temperature of a nation grappling with a global pandemic, the brink of Brexit, heartbreaking conditions for refugees, and so much more,” the judges said.

Smith, accepting her prize in a speech next to the mural of Orwell at Southwold Pier in Suffolk, said she was “so happy” to win, citing Orwell’s ambitions for political writing as an art.

“The place where these two things meet can’t not be a place of humane – and inhumane – revelation. To me, that’s what the word Orwellian means,” said Smith, who was previously shortlisted and longlisted for the prize with her novels ‘Winter’ and ‘Spring,’ respectively. “That’s why the past and future visions of his fiction will always be timeless, and why the Orwell prize for political fiction really matters.”

The £3,000 prize for political writing went to the Moscow-based journalist Joshua Yaffa’s ‘Between Two Fires,’ a collection of portraits of individuals – from TV producers to priests – in contemporary Russia. Judges called it “magnificent and moving”, saying that Yaffa “illuminates the challenges of moral life and the ways in which authoritarian rule is maintained”.



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