Emmanuelle Imoh, winner of the 2021 Creative Student Prize

Emmanuelle Imoh, 15, winner of the 2021 Creative Student Prize

The winner of the 2021 Lit in Colour Creative Student Prize is Emmanuelle Imoh from Townley Grammar School, London.

The 15-year-old’s spoken word video – which you can watch in full below – was awarded the top prize from a field of over 400 entries all responding to the question: what place do books have in your world?

Judged by a panel led by author and actress Zawe Aston, the competition was open to pupils aged 14-18 from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland and attracted short stories, poems, essays and artworks.

But it was Imoh’s 1.09m video, which blended spoken word with visuals to explore the importance of diversity in fiction, that most impressed Aston and her fellow judges Mireille Harper, Simran Randhawa, Yomi Sode and Humza Arshad. The competition forms part of Penguin’s Lit in Colour campaign, which this year has aimed to help schools introduce more books by people of colour into the classroom.

“In my video, I explicitly advocate the effect of promoting diversity throughout various genres of books,” Imoh explained.

“I also invoke the idea that books are used throughout my daily life e.g. at school, at home etc. I believe that books are the foundations of our society and they should reveal and confront societal issues which are usually concealed from the general public. I focus on the meaning books should have on our world, whilst accepting that books can have ambiguous interpretations and meanings.”

In her judging notes, author Mireille Harper said: “I loved the strong aesthetic approach [of the video] and how the writer's words accompanied it. I found it invigorating, unique and immersive.

Writer and poet Yomi Sode said: “So much was loaded in this poem that was not overbearing. I have to take my hat off to the poet to write and deliver this in such a way that time wasn’t even a factor. I also love the refrain at the end just to add the cherry on top. Well done.”

Imoh, who wins a MacBook Air, a one-year subscription to Adobe Create Cloud Suite and a book bundle, said: “I think that campaigns like Lit in Colour are important because it encourages diversity in reading and teaches inclusivity to young people and schools.

She added: “In the future I hope to become an inspiring role model for young people.”

You can read other entries into the competition, including a short story by 16-year-old Amaal Fawzi and a poem by 17-year-old Elias Daryani, who are this year’s runners-up, here.

In June 2021, Lit in Colour published research with race equality thinktank The Runnymede Trust which found only 1% of GCSE students in England study a book by an author of colour and only 7% study a book by a woman - with just 0.1% studying a woman of colour. 

In response to the campaign, exam boards including Pearson and OCR have committed to making the syllabus taught in English Literature classes for inclusive, doubling the choice of books by writers of colour that can be studied at GCSE.   

Find out more about Lit in Colour.

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