Royal Society of Literature: 62 diverse new fellows announced

Royal Society of Literature: 62 diverse new fellows announced

by Suswati Basu
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Royal Society of Literature
Royal Society of Literature New Fellows and Summer Party 2023 Garden Museum

The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) revealed the names of 62 esteemed individuals who have been appointed as Fellows and Honorary Fellows for 2023, including many from diverse backgrounds. The bicentennial announcement took place at a special event held at the Garden Museum, where the RSL celebrated the contributions of these exceptional writers.

Among the newly appointed Fellows are Anthony Anaxagorou, Emma Dabiri, Anthony Joseph, Benjamin Myers, Michael Hofmann, Owen Sheers, Suniti Namjoshi, Moniza Alvi, and Romalyn Ante.

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Dabiri called the appointment “surreal” as books had “transformed my life”, while Anaxagorou called it an “honour and privilege”. The writer, who won the 2023 Ondaatje prize for Heritage Aesthetics, a collection shaped by his family’s migratory history between the UK and Cyprus, said that there are few Cypriots “visibly working within literature” and that the Cypriot diaspora is “not a community that focuses a lot on arts and culture”.

Anthony Anaxagorou named Royal Society of Literature fellow
Anthony Anaxagorou

The RSL, established in 1820, serves as a vital advocate for the value of literature, providing support and recognition to both emerging and established writers. The organisation aims to bridge the gap between authors and audiences of diverse backgrounds and experiences, fostering a vibrant literary community in the UK.

As part of their ongoing commitment to engaging more people with literature, the RSL unveiled a preview of their redesigned website at the event. The new website will feature an extensive archive of recordings and articles from past events, with additional content set to be added leading up to the launch of their autumn/winter program in September 2023.

“Books transformed my life, first as an avid reader and then as a writer myself. What anhonour to join the Royal Society of Literature with such esteemed company as T.S. Eliot and Zadie Smith, amongst many others, with whom it feels somewhat surreal to be included.”

Emma Dabiri

The RSL also announced the establishment of an Illustrator in Residence program, which will celebrate the relationship between image and word. The first Illustrator in Residence will be announced on the RSL’s 203rd birthday on November 30.

The RSL Open initiative, launched as part of the RSL 200 festival, has played a pivotal role in increasing the diversity of voices within the RSL Fellowship. Over the course of two years, the initiative has elected 60 writers from underrepresented communities, backgrounds, and experiences in UK literary culture as Fellows. This year marks the second induction of writers elected through the RSL Open initiative, with 31 writers being honoured for their outstanding literary merit.

Royal Society of Literature, Emma Dabiri
Emma Dabiri

To further promote inclusivity and diversity within the Fellowship, the RSL has made a groundbreaking change to the election process for new Fellows and Honorary Fellows. In addition to nominations from current Fellows and Honorary Fellows, readers and writers from across the UK will now have the opportunity to recommend writers for Fellowship.

A panel of selected RSL Fellows will review these recommendations and nominate a cohort of 30 writers for election each year. This change aims to celebrate the excellence and diversity of writers in the UK, engage more RSL Fellows in the election process, and foster stronger connections between writers and their readers.

At the event, the new Fellows and Honorary Fellows elected in 2023 signed their names in the RSL Roll Book using pens from the charity’s collection. The Roll Book, dating back to 1825, bears the signatures of Fellows and Honorary Fellows elected over the past 200 years.

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The pens used for this ceremonial act have a rich history, once belonging to influential UK writers such as Arnold Wesker, Andrea Levy, Jean Rhys, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot, and Lord Byron. Among them was Jhalak Prize co-founder Sunny Singh.

RSL Benson Medal

The RSL also awarded the prestigious Benson Medal to Susan Roberts, Director of Contains Strong Language festival of poetry, Executive Editor of Radio Drama at the BBC, and BBC Audio North Head of Culture, Arts, and Music. The Benson Medal, founded in 1916, recognises individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of literature throughout their careers. Roberts expressed her gratitude for the honor and emphasised the importance of literature in her work and personal life.

Roberts said: “My own passions and interests as a reader and a believer in the power of literature have gone hand in hand with a career in public service where I have been able to bring writers and poets to a wider audience.”

The RSL is in the midst of its five-year RSL 200 festival, which celebrates the diversity of writing and writers in the UK. The RSL Open initiative has been a cornerstone of this festival, bringing forth exceptional voices and stories that may have otherwise been overlooked. The announcement of the new Fellows and Honorary Fellows for 2023 and the unveiling of the RSL’s redesigned website reflect the RSL’s ongoing commitment to championing literature and creating a more inclusive and vibrant literary landscape in the UK.

This year’s new fellows for Royal Society of Literature in full:

The 15 new fellows
  • Karin Altenberg
  • Tash Aw
  • Josh Cohen
  • Gavin Francis
  • James Hamilton-Paterson
  • Michael Hofmann
  • Maya Jaggi
  • Toby Litt
  • Nesrine Malik
  • Beverley Naidoo
  • Suniti Namjoshi
  • Owen Sheers
  • Peter Stothard
  • Erica Wagner
  • Bee Wilson
The 31 new Open fellows
  • Leila Aboulela
  • Moniza Alvi
  • Anthony Anaxagorou
  • Romalyn Ante
  • Carys Bray
  • Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
  • Jan Carson
  • Joseph Coelho
  • Patricia Cumper
  • Emma Dabiri
  • Tishani Doshi
  • Wendy Erskine
  • Jenni Fagan
  • Janice Galloway
  • Rosie Garland
  • Seán Hewitt
  • Anthony Joseph
  • Sarah Ladipo Manyika
  • Patrice Lawrence
  • Roy McFarlane
  • Darren McGarvey
  • Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Benjamin Myers
  • Patrick Ness
  • Kaite O’Reilly
  • Glenn Patterson
  • Laline Paull
  • Leone Ross
  • Sunny Singh
  • Preti Taneja
  • Tade Thompson
The 16 new honorary fellows
  • Nelle Andrew
  • Mohit Bakaya
  • Richard Beswick
  • James Currey
  • Georgina Godwin
  • Chris Gribble
  • Mark C Hewitt
  • Peggy Hughes
  • Andrew Kidd
  • Robyn Marsack
  • Henderson Mullin
  • Emma Paterson
  • Sue Roberts
  • Aki Schilz
  • Bill Swainson
  • Sylvia Whitman

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