Professor Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History at the University of Westminster and Director of the Orwell Foundation that runs the Orwell Youth Prize, managed a record response from young writers across the country with support from a number of Westminster volunteers.
The Orwell Youth Prize is a political writing prize for young people in the UK aged 12-18, which aims to ensure that young people are given an opportunity to discuss and debate the society they are a part of and to communicate their own ideas for the society we should be striving for in the future. The Orwell Foundation draws upon George Orwell’s work to celebrate honest writing and reporting, uncover hidden lives and confront uncomfortable truths – and, in doing so, to promote his values of integrity, decency and fidelity to truth.
This year, entries for the Orwell Youth Prize received more than quadrupled in lockdown compared to previous years, proving that young people have a lot to say about the future they want and the future they fear. As a result, the Orwell Youth Prize transformed into a network of volunteers to enable the charity to meet its offer to young people. Westminster academics and PhD students volunteered to be on the shortlisting panel and helped to offer 600 entrants personalised feedback on their drafts and help with the sifting process for judging. They also helped entrants reach out to relevant contacts who could help to respond to their ideas.
The seven winning pieces echo George Orwell’s own genre-hopping, including short stories, journalistic essays, and poetry. Alongside the winning pieces, analysis of the collective prize entries revealed that mental health, the climate crisis, social media and tackling racism are among the major concerns for young people who are seeking to create a better future for themselves and others.
Talking about the prize, Professor Jean Seaton said: “We were so proud that young people turned to the Prize as a way of saying what was important to them during lockdown. We had to scramble an army of volunteers to give them feedback, fan out to writers and political players to respond to their ideas, as they asked us. Everyone wanted to help because everyone knows these voices tell us things we need to know. And we listened to the wider story the entries told us: we will honour that creativity and bleakness in the coming year.”
Kayo Chingonyi, Judge of the Orwell Youth Prize and poet, added: “It was a tremendous honour to read this work and gain an insight into some of the things young people are thinking about. We found a particularly moving political engagement in writers who are at the beginning of their writing lives but write as if they’ve been writing for decades, lifetimes. I want to commend all entrants for having that courage to set something down on the screen or on paper and share it with the world.”
Read the winning writing entries on the Orwell Youth Prize website.