The UK’s most influential prize for young writers, The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, is joining forces with the Charlotte Aitken Trust, a recently established charity set up by the former literary agent Gillon Aitken in his will, in honour of his daughter. The major new sponsorship will enable the prize to significantly extend its core mission of supporting and developing young literary voices in the UK and Ireland.
The prize money for both winner and shortlistees will double, to £10,000 and £1,000 respectively. The timeline will also change, with the shortlist being announced in January 2022 (previously November), and the winner in February (previously December).
Charlotte Aitken was the only child of Gillon Aitken, a towering figure of the publishing industry and the outstanding literary agent of his generation. When he died, in 2016, his will left instructions for the majority of his money to go into the creation of a new literary charity – to encourage literary talent – in memory of his daughter, who died at the age of 27. The partnership with the Young Writer of the Year Award is the charity’s first nationwide announcement.
Novelist Sebastian Faulks, Chair of the Charlotte Aitken Trust, said: “To be encouraging young writers in Charlotte’s name is absolutely the sort of thing we want to be doing. The prize itself, with its previous sponsors, the University of Warwick and Peters Fraser & Dunlop, has a fantastically good track record – not just for picking up writers of promise, but writers of achievement – people who have gone on to have very good careers. It has great history and value to us, and we are thrilled to be a partner.”
Literary agent Clare Alexander, a trustee, said: “The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award is without equal in discovering new writers and in giving them vital encouragement in the early stages of their career. I know how happy Gillon would be that one of our first sponsorships is of a prize that fulfils his intentions so fully, not only in enabling talent to flourish, but in supporting youth and literary ambition.”
Publisher Rachel Cugnoni, a trustee, said: “The mark of a prize worth winning is the quality of the list of previous winners and in that The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award has no equal. There is no doubt therefore that Gillon Aitken would be enormously proud that his and Charlotte’s legacy should be used to support such a prestigious prize. And then of course, Gillon was a devotee of The Times and The Sunday Times and every day of his adult life included a battle with the crossword. To see this battle end in creative collaboration would have made him very happy indeed.”
Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times Literary Editor, said: “This is a significant moment for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. We have a heritage that any literary award would be proud of, but joining with the Charlotte Aitken Trust in the goal of supporting and championing young writing in the UK and Ireland is a huge boost. We share so much with the Trust, and together we will be able to significantly increase what we can offer to new young writers. I feel honoured that the trustees felt we were a worthy partner, and really excited about what we can now achieve together.”
One of the unique elements of the prize is the network of partnerships it has developed with like-minded institutions. In addition to The Society of Authors, the administrators of the prize, these have recently included previous title sponsor the University of Warwick, home to the acclaimed Warwick Writing Programme; The London Library; overseas partner the British Council; and the literary magazine Granta. The prize will now be working to extend these partnerships across the literary world.
Set up in 1991, and open to British and Irish authors of 35 or under writing in any genre, the Young Writer of the Year Award has a remarkable record in spotting future writers of real significance. Zadie Smith, Robert Macfarlane, poet laureate Simon Armitage, Sarah Waters, Willian Dalrymple, Francis Spufford, Naomi Alderman, Max Porter, Raymond Antrobus and Sally Rooney are just some of its previous winners.
Last year, the award went to the poet Jay Bernard for their collection Surge.
Submissions for the first The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award are now open and will close on 31st August 2021. Publishers can enter here. This year’s judges will be announced shortly.
READ MORE about the new partnership and why Sebastian Faulks thinks the prize is such a good fit for the Trust.