The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) is a learned society founded in 1820, by King George IV, to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent". A charity that represents the voice of literature in the UK, the RSL has about 600 Fellows, elected from among the best writers in any genre currently at work. Additionally, Honorary Fellows are chosen from those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of literature, including publishers, agents, librarians, booksellers or producers. The society is a cultural tenant at London's Somerset House.
|Headquarters||Somerset House, London, England, United Kingdom|
|Dame Marina Warner DBE|
|Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall|
The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) was founded in 1820, with the patronage of George IV, to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent", and its first president was Thomas Burgess, Bishop of St David's (who was later translated as Bishop of Salisbury).
At the heart of the RSL is its Fellowship, "which encompasses the most distinguished writers working today", with the RSL Council, Chair and President, who are responsible for its direction and management, being drawn from the Fellowship. As an independent charity, the RSL receives no regular public or government funding, relying on the support of its Members, Patrons, Fellows and friends to continue its work. The RSL has about 600 Fellows, elected from among the best writers in any genre currently at work. Additionally, Honorary Fellows are chosen from those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of literature, including publishers, agents, librarians, booksellers or producers, or who have rendered special service to the RSL. Paid membership is open to all and offers a variety of benefits.
The society publishes an annual magazine, The Royal Society of Literature Review, and administers a number of literary prizes and awards, including the RSL Ondaatje Prize, the RSL Giles St Aubyn Awards for Non-Fiction, the RSL Encore Award for best second novel of the year and the V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize for short stories.
In 2020, the RSL celebrated its 200th anniversary with the announcement of RSL 200, "a five-year festival launched with a series of major new initiatives and 60 new appointments championing the great diversity of writing and writers in the UK". Initiatives included RSL Open (electing new Fellows from communities, backgrounds and experiences currently under-represented in UK literary culture), RSL International Writers (recognising the contribution of writers across the globe to literature in English) and Sky Arts RSL Writers Awards.
In 2021, the RSL launched "Literature Matters: Reading Together", a project aiming to make recreational reading accessible to young people across the UK.
The society maintains its current level of about 600 Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature: generally 14 new fellows are elected annually, who are accorded the privilege of using the post-nominal letters FRSL.
Past and present fellows include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, J. R. R. Tolkien, W. B. Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Koestler, Chinua Achebe, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Robert Ardrey, Sybille Bedford, Muriel Spark, P. J. Kavanagh, and Sir Roger Scruton. Present Fellows include Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo, David Hare, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel, Andrew Motion, Paul Muldoon, Zadie Smith, Nadeem Aslam, Sarah Waters, Geoffrey Ashe and J. K. Rowling. A newly created fellow inscribes his or her name on the society's official roll using either Byron's pen, T. S. Eliot's fountain pen, which replaced Dickens's quill in 2013, or (as of 2018) George Eliot's pen.
From time to time the RSL confers the honour and title of Companion of Literature to writers of particular note. Additionally the RSL can bestow its award of the Benson Medal for lifetime service in the field of literature.
The RSL runs a membership programme offering a variety of events to members and the general public. Membership of the RSL is open to all.
The RSL also runs an outreach programme, currently for young people and those in prison.
Awards and prizesEdit
The RSL administers two annual prizes, two awards, and two honours. Through its prize programmes, the RSL supports new and established contemporary writers.
- The RSL Christopher Bland Prize — £10,000 for debut prose writers over the age of 50.
- The Encore Awards — £10,000 for best second novel of the year. The RSL took over the administration of this award in 2016.
- The RSL Giles St Aubyn Awards for Non-Fiction – annual awards, currently one of £10,000 and one of £5,000 and one of £2,500, to authors engaged on their first commissioned works of non-fiction (replaced the Jerwood Award in 2017).
- The RSL Ondaatje Prize – an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.
- The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize – an annual prize of £1,000 for the best unpublished short story of the year.
- The Benson Medal – awarded to those who have done sustained and outstanding service to literature.
- Companion of Literature – the highest honour that the Society can bestow upon a writer.
Council and presidentsEdit
The Council of the Royal Society of Literature is central to the election of new fellows, and directs the RSL's activities through its monthly meetings. Council members serve for a fixed term of four years, with new members being elected by Council when members retire.
- Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
- Dame Marina Warner DBE
- Chair of Council
- Daljit Nagra OBE
List of presidentsEdit
- 1820–1832: Bishop Thomas Burgess
- 1832–1833: The Lord Dover
- 1834–1845: The Earl of Ripon
- 1845–1849: Henry Hallam
- 1849–1851: The Marquess of Northampton
- 1851–1856: The Earl of Carlisle
- 1856–1876: The Rt Rev. Connop Thirlwall (Bishop of St David's until 1874)
- 1876–1884: The Prince Leopold (Duke of Albany from 1881)
- 1885–1893: Sir Patrick Colquhoun
- 1893–1920: The Earl of Halsbury
- 1921–1945: The Marquess of Crewe
- 1946–1947: The Earl of Lytton
- 1947–1982: The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
- 1982–1988: Sir Angus Wilson
- 1988–2003: The Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
- 2003–2008: Sir Michael Holroyd
- 2008–2017: Colin Thubron
- 2017–2021: Marina Warner
- 2022–present: Bernardine Evaristo
The Royal Society of Literature comprises more than 600 Fellows, who are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FRSL.
New fellows of the Royal Society of Literature are elected by its current fellows. To be nominated for fellowship, a writer must have published two works of literary merit, and nominations must be seconded by an RSL fellow. All nominations are presented to members of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature, who vote biannually to elect new fellows. Nominated candidates who have not been successful are reconsidered at every election for three years from the year in which they were proposed. Newly elected fellows are introduced at the Society's AGM and summer party. While the President reads a citation for each, they are invited to sign their names in the roll book which dates back to 1820, using either T. S. Eliot's fountain pen or Byron's pen. In 2013, Charles Dickens' quill was retired and replaced with Eliot's fountain pen, and in 2018 George Eliot's pen was offered as a choice, the first time in the RSL's history that a pen that belonged to a woman writer was an option.
In 2018, the RSL honoured the achievements of Britain's younger writers through the initiative "40 Under 40", which saw the election of 40 new fellows aged under 40.
The * before the name denotes an Honorary Fellow. The list is online at the RSL website.
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