- Claire Wilcox wins the PEN Ackerley Prize 2021 for her memoir Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes (Bloomsbury)
- Shortlisted books also included: Darran Anderson, Inventory: A River, A City, A Family (Chatto & Windus) and Jean Sprackland, These Silent Mansions: A Life in Graveyards (Jonathan Cape)
- The PEN Ackerley Prize is the UK’s only literary prize dedicated to memoir and autobiography
The PEN Ackerley Prize was established 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 critic Claire Harman. The winner receives a cheque for £3,000.
Claire Wilcox, winner of the PEN Ackerley Prize 2021, said:
‘I want to thank everybody who’s been involved, everyone at PEN, everybody who loves books, all the writers I admire – I think of this great legacy of language we all share and I’m immensely touched and honoured. Thank you.’
Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN, said:
‘I would like to congratulate this year’s PEN Ackerley Prize winner Claire Wilcox, and I encourage everyone to read her beautiful and insightful memoir Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes. Sincere congratulations also to all those shortlisted for their remarkable works. 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, particularly in this our centenary year.’
Peter Parker, Chair of the Judges, said:
‘Claire Wilcox’s Patch Work faced some very strong competition among the 28 titles called in for this year’s PEN Ackerley Prize. Not least, the book was shortlisted alongside Darran Anderson’s Inventory and Jean Sprackland’s The Silent Mansions.
All three books achieved the same high standards that J.R. Ackerley did in his own autobiographical writings: imaginatively constructed, beautifully written, and unafraid to confront sometimes uncomfortable personal truths. They each take the reader into the very different worlds of Derry during the Troubles, English graveyards, and the fashion collection at the V&A. These worlds may be particular to the authors, and have their own intrinsic interest for that reason; but they also reveal much about what we all share: family, love, loss, memory, and the inexorable passing of time.
In the end, however, it was not just the sheer quality of the writing, but the inventive and wonderfully aslant approach Claire Wilcox took to telling her own and other stories that made Patch Work this year’s winner.
Claire Wilcox’s Patch Work is an ingeniously conceived account of ‘A Life Amongst Clothes.’ A curator of fashion at the V & A, the author uses items from the collection to tell individual stories and her experience of cataloguing them to suggest ways in which we arrange the facts and incidents of our lives. As its title suggests, the book is made up of vivid scraps skilfully stitched together to create a wonderfully glancing account of her life.’