The 2020 Fellows have been asking the 2021 Fellows some intriguing questions about their writing process and Youth Prize pieces. With the Prize open for entries for another year, we're delighted to share the next two interviews in the series. Keep an eye on the blog, as we will be publishing more interviews with our 2021 Fellows over the coming weeks and months!
Our next interviewees are 2021 Fellows Isabella Rew and Laurell Jarrett-Anderson. Read on to hear more about the impact of Covid-19 on our relationship with nature, poetic form, opportunities for Black creatives, and inspirational Black role models.
The Orwell Youth Prize 2022 is now open for entries with a new theme: 'Coming Up For Air: Writing the Climate Crisis'. You can also find more information about this year's theme, resources and how to enter on The Orwell Youth Prize website. All this year's winners and runners-up will be invited to join the Youth Fellows, and we hope these interviews will be an inspiration to future entrants.
2020 Youth Fellows, Noah Robinson and Manal Nadeem, interviewed 2021 Youth Fellow, Isabella Rew, about her winning poem ‘Two For Joy’, its form and imagery, and the inspiration behind the poem.
Read the conversation here:
NOAH: In an evocative manner, you describe the speaker’s encounter with a magpie, “test[ing] the sanitised air with her keen beak”. Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our relationship with nature and Britain’s landscape, both physically and mentally?
ISABELLA: I hope it has. Before COVID-19 was ‘the new normal’, lockdown plunged us all into a very sudden isolation and it was the natural world many people found solace in on their daily walks. The sublimity of nature, untouched by social upheaval, provided an escape for myself in particular and being home gave me a new appreciation for the beauty of my local environment. Unfortunately, I also think the immediacy of the COVID pandemic has distracted from or provided an excuse to defer climate action. With the reminder of how integrated we are in the natural ecosystem, I hope we’ll learn to take responsibility for our actions and support it the way it has supported us.
MANAL: As I interpret it, your poem is a powerful commentary on the ever-present danger of climate change. It starts on a relatively neutral note with the imagery of the bird then grows increasingly ominous until the poignant last line - ‘We’ll be so lonely when the world is over.’ Was it a conscious decision to start this poem differently from how it would end?
ISABELLA: Yes, it was. The form of my poem is a sonnet and these typically experience a volta, a ‘turning point’, in mood from the first octet to the following sestet. I wanted to write a love poem to the natural world and contrast this love with the painful reality of its imminent loss. We’re reaching our own volta with the climate crisis: a point of no return wherein our planet will be irrevocably damaged and humanity will have to face that alone. The final line isn’t as final as it seems, however; it’s one syllable over a perfect sonnet. That way there’s room to pick up a new stanza when we’re willing to write one.
MANAL: I love the imagist style of your poem, packed as it is with powerful imagery (‘my shadow’s shoulder/’sugared sunbeams’). Are there any particular poets who you admire, stylistically speaking?
ISABELLA: Imagism is my favourite! I think images can communicate and evoke empathy with a delicacy blunt description often lacks. One of my favourite poets is Amy Woolard and her poem ‘Laura Palmer Graduates’ is full of everyday imagery and she treats each like a miracle. The careful observation and love of life in that poem is a huge inspiration to me, as are many of her other works.
The 2020 Orwell Youth Fellows also interviewed 2021 Youth Fellow, Laurell Jarrett-Anderson, about her Youth Prize essay ‘Notes on Being Black’. The conversation explores how she chose the topics of focus for her piece, the writers and creatives who inspired her, and the changes which need to happen to create greater access and opportunities for Black creatives.
Read the conversation here:
2020 FELLOWS: In reading your essay, I loved how you segmented it into powerful sections, each devoted to a different aspect - from ‘Appreciation not appropriation’ to ‘This world does not move without black creativity’. How did you narrow down the specific areas or aspects you wanted to focus on?
LAURELL: Discrimination and police brutality is nothing new. I find that there are ‘safe’ topics within racism that people choose to talk about again and again, promoting activism but implementing no real change. I wanted to focus on issues that haven't quite yet been explored on a wide scale by mainstream media and look a lot deeper into the causes and necessary solutions that we should be seeing. The aspects I focused on tackled racism from a modern perspective and aimed to inform people that there is more to just what we see shared on social media.
2020 FELLOWS: The section on ‘This world does not move without black creativity’ feels particularly poignant in light of the recent recognition gained by Black creatives such as Michaela Coel and Bernardine Evaristo. How far do you feel these are steps towards long-term, structural change in terms of greater access and opportunities for Black creatives?
LAURELL: I absolutely admire the work of Bernadine Evaristo, her book Girl, Woman, Other also inspiring my own writing. It’s important that Black women are gaining the recognition they deserve and this change will inspire many young black creatives in the future. I have always believed that seeing black role models succeed as a young black person is one of the most inspiring and impactful reasons to achieve. Recognition is just one of the steps towards even greater structural change, however I believe it will definitely bring forward new opportunities and positively impact people's perspective and understanding of black talent, not only in writing but every other industry.
2020 FELLOWS: In your introduction, you talk about the book ‘Loud Black Girls’ as a key inspiration for your piece. Are there other writers, or creatives more generally, who have inspired your writing?
LAURELL: There are so many! For ‘Notes On Being Black’, seeing fellow black people continue to succeed and showcase their talent allowed me to reflect on my own experiences and helped me to articulate what I thought was an important discussion in my piece.
More generally speaking, I admire the extraordinary careers of fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley and editor-in-chief of British Vogue Edward Enningful for all they have achieved and how they continue to pave the way for black creatives in fashion. Eunice Olumide is another fantastic example of someone who continues to represent black talent in her writing, modeling and activism. I admire Ibrahim Kamara for his integration of black culture in his photography and film director Ryan Coogler for his amazing work and the creation of ‘Black Panther’.
The Orwell Youth Prize 2021, 'A New Direction: Starting Small', was sponsored by Rethinking Poverty: The Webb Trust.
The Orwell Youth Fellows is a project in progress, encompassing winners and runners up from the 2020 and 2021 Youth Prizes. Together, the group are forming ideas, starting conversations and developing writing that is responsive to the society we are living in and that supports engagement with the prize. Find out more here.