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 critic Claire 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.’