Fern Academy Prize

Fern Press and How To Academy are delighted to launch the inaugural Fern Academy Prize, in association with Tortoise Media – a new annual non-fiction essay prize for those working at the frontier of creativity and thought.

The prize is designed to find and nurture emerging non-fiction talent and will be awarded to an essay of literary merit with an international and multicultural interest. The prize encourages essays that shine a light on the universal human experience – on a micro or macro scale – and which speak clearly to the times we live in. The prize is open to unagented and unpublished writers from around the world, writing in the English language.

The winning writer will receive:

  • £3,000 cash prize;
  • publication with Tortoise Media;
  • literary representation by RCW literary agent Laurence Laluyaux;
  • a five-night writing course* run by How To Academy’s sister company, Unmissable Courses;
  • an appearance on How To Academy’s biweekly podcast; and
  • mentorship from a Penguin Random House UK editor.

The judges for the prize are:

  • Margaret Busby (Chair), writer and publisher;
  • Laurence Laluyaux, RCW director and literary agent;
  • Mark O’Connell, writer; and
  • Keith Blackmore, Tortoise Media managing editor.

Submissions are now open and will close 30 April 2024. Essays should be 3,000–6,000 words in length. The prize is open to all writers who have not been published by a trade book publisher, including those who have to date only published academic papers and in other media such as magazines, newspapers and online.

Margaret Busby, Chair of Judges, says: ‘The Fern Academy Prize is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the potential universality of essays, foregrounding a genre of writing that at best is both accessible and multi-dimensional (and which has always been a particular favourite of mine). The time is definitely right to seek out shortform writing capable of opening minds and addressing issues that affect us all.’

Fern Press and How To Academy say: ‘We’re thrilled to be partnering with Tortoise Media and this prestigious line up of judges, chaired by Margaret Busby, for the first year of the Fern Academy Prize. In a deeply divided and increasingly polarised world, emerging thinkers, writers and artists have an important and powerful role to play in our navigation and understanding of different perspectives and worlds. This international prize, open to anyone writing in the English language, anywhere in the world, looks to celebrate the essay form and build bridges between analysis and the creative imagination.’

Margaret Busby CBE, Hon. FRSL (Nana Akua Ackon) is a major cultural figure around the world. Born in Ghana and educated in the UK, she became Britain’s youngest and first black woman publisher when she co-founded Allison & Busby in the 1960s. A writer, editor, broadcaster and literary critic, she has judged numerous literary awards, including the Booker Prize, received many honours and served on several boards, among them the Royal Literary Fund, Wasafiri and the Africa Centre in London. She has edited two ground-breaking anthologies, Daughters of Africa (1992) and its sequel, New Daughters of Africa (2019), which seeded the Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa Award at SOAS, University of London. Margaret’s own collected writings will be published by Hamish Hamilton in 2025.

Mark O’Connell is a writer from Dublin. His first book, To Be a Machine, won the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize. In 2019 he became the first ever non-fiction writer to win the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. His second book, Notes From an Apocalypse,was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize. His most recent book, A Thread of Violence, was published in 2023. He is a contributor to the New York Review of Books, and his work has appeared in the New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine.

Laurence Laluyaux is a director of RCW Literary Agency and runs RCW International, which focuses on authors from around the world writing in many languages. Her authors have won or been nominated for the Nobel Prize, the Booker International Prize, the National Book Award for Translated Literature, the Rathbones Folio Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Dublin Literary Award, the James Tait Black Prize, and many more.

Keith Blackmore is the editor of Tortoise Media’s short book of long reads. In a twenty-five-year career at The Times, he was variously Head of Sport, Online Editorial Director, Executive Editor and, lastly, Deputy Editor, a post he left in 2013. He was then Managing Editor, BBC News from 2014 to 2018, when he joined Tortoise Media, where he is also now Managing Editor.

In association with:

For more information, please contact fernacademyprize@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk.

* The winner will be solely responsible for arranging all travel and paying all travel costs to and from the writing course (including flights if applicable) offered as part of the prize. Any passport, travel documents or VISA requirements to attend the course will be the winner’s responsibility to organise.