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Coming Up For Air
New writing from this year's Orwell Youth Prize winners
The Orwell Youth Prize is a writing prize with a difference. We know that access to extra-curricular opportunities - and educational outcomes - in the UK are unequally distributed. (Only today, GCSE results in England showed a widening North-South divide.)
Inspired by Orwell’s own values and example - and with a particular focus on reaching under-served communities - the Youth Prize offers young people across the country opportunities to write and think creatively and critically, both inside and outside the classroom - from our regional workshop hubs, to individual feedback and online resources for all entrants.
And the work doesn’t stop when the winners are announced: we take our winners’ writing - and the collective voice of all our entrants - to people in power, from sharing work local MPs to our recent appearance with Shout Out UK at the All Parliamentary Group for Political Literacy in Westminster.
The last few years have been incredibly challenging for students and teachers. The Youth Prize responded, recruiting a record amount of volunteer readers in order to match an unprecedented demand for feedback - and revamping our online resources. This year, we also began a new scheme working directly with teachers to make sure the prize is as engaging, rewarding and inclusive as possible.
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The programme culminates in our annual writing prize, with winners announced in two age categories, across all the different styles of writing the Youth Prize celebrates, from journalistic essays to poetry. This summer, we were delighted to be able to bring this year’s Youth Prize finalists together for a Celebration Day at University College London, which featured workshops with Orwell Prize finalist Ria Chatterjee, and previous winner Delia Jarrett-Macauley. There was also an opportunity to meet our active alumni group, The Orwell Youth Fellows, which we hope all our winners will join (more from the Youth Fellows in our next issue).
This year’s Youth Prize theme, ‘Coming Up For Air: Writing the Climate Crisis’, challenged entrants to look again at what is often described as the most important, pressing issue of our age - one on which young people’s voices are increasingly sought-after (but not always listened to). What did they think was missing from the conversation? How can we, as individuals, ‘write’ the climate crisis?
Evie Alam is a Youth Prize entrant from Harton Academy, South Shields, whose poem, ‘Destination - Underwater’, was selected from over 400 entries as one of three winners in the Junior Category - and commended by local MP Emma Lewell-Buck. Judge Gillian Clarke, former national poet of Wales, described it as 'a poem about the drowning of places... well expressed in rage and disgust.' You can read Evie’s poem in full below, and all our winners on the Foundation website via the link below.
Destination - Underwater (Evie Alam, age 15)
User Iluvtacobell29 on Yahoo Answers
Tells you Bangladesh will
Have sunken by tomorrow,
all lowercase, unbothered.
The BBC extends the life expectancy of
Swarms of aunties and uncles,
The serene exhale of Rangamati,
The Tango Ice Blast of Himalayan snow,
The vomit of an ocean frothing at the mouth,
Chews up a country like a sinner on the A train
Let us fill the lungs of a mother tongue
With billowing exhaust fumes,
We’ve got the time.
Sublimate the land,
Watch the swirling swoon of sea
Suck the life out of a city or
Just for joy,
Even a few hundred, hashtag productive.
Seep through the veins of the Earth,
Like a coffee stain on a freshly pressed shirt.
Last stop, Lagos,
Mind the gap, dear,
By the time I’ve typed this up
It’s probably gotten shorter,
To 2048, where
You’ll see them underwater.
Congratulations to Evie, all our winners and finalists - and every young person who took part in a workshop or the prize this year. Huge thanks to our expert judges, Michael Jacobs, Nada Farhoud, Dan Bernardo and Gillian Clarke, who were faced with the extremely difficult task of choosing the final winners from a very strong field.
We’ll be featuring much more from our winners, and the Youth Fellows, right here on the new Youth Prize section of the newsletter in the coming weeks and months. Or follow the Orwell Youth Prize on Twitter or Instagram for the latest news about the programme, and more responses to our winners’ writing.