Writer and literacy champion Cecilia Knapp scoops 2021 Ruth Rendell Award

07 December 2021

The Ruth Rendell Award was launched by ALCS and The National Literacy Trust in memory of the bestselling author. #ALCSAwards

Young People’s Laureate for London, playwright and novelist, Cecilia Knapp, has won the coveted Ruth Rendell Award 2021 for her outstanding contribution to raise literacy levels in the UK. The winner was announced on Tuesday 7 December 2021 by the National Literacy Trust charity.

The Award, launched in memory of bestselling author Ruth Rendell in 2016 by the National Literacy Trust and ALCS, celebrates the author who has done the most to champion literacy throughout the UK over the past year.

About winning the Ruth Rendell Award 2021, Cecilia Knapp said:

“This is a total and gorgeous shock. I care deeply about making literature accessible to young people, and making sure they feel entitled to the world of stories and poetry as something they are entitled to; a space they can occupy however and whenever they want, on their own terms.

“It was a free workshop that sparked my love of literature back when I was younger. It made me see that reading and writing doesn’t have to feel scary and impenetrable, that it doesn’t have to be a test, that our own voices and stories are just as valid as whatever has gone before.”

Cecilia has delivered four residencies for young people as part of her role as Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate with partner organisations Young Refugee and Roots Council, South London Gallery, Street Soccer and CALM, and Royal Court over the past 12 months.

She also initiated Knapp Chats, chatting to writers whose work she admired, to celebrate the power of writing but also to hear from a range of people and how they got into the creative world. The diverse group of writers includes artist Travis Alabanza, poet Rachel Long and poet and playwright, Toby Campion.

This year’s achievements from the inspiring poet also included:

  • Organising an online campaign #WriteThroughThis, free workshops and videos to get young people through the pandemic which culminated in an anthology, publishing 15 young poets.
  • Working with First Story as an ambassador for National Writing Day 2020 to deliver an online workshop on identity, reaching over 3,500 young people and teachers.
  • First Story writer-in-residence at Hampstead School, working across Year 9 in the first term and with a selected cohort in the second term.
  • Cecilia has remained totally committed to working with under-privileged young people through First Story and has taken on two further residencies this year.  She also worked with a group of girls and explored issues around #MeToo and women being safe on the streets and produced an anthology with them.

This year’s ALCS award announcement took place on the evening of 7 December with National Literacy Trust’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Douglas CBE and ALCS Deputy Chief Executive, Barbara Hayes at a festive ceremony at the House of Commons.

Jonathan Douglas CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust, said: “We’re living in such extraordinary and precarious times and it’s the very best of the best people who stand head and shoulders above the rest. Cecilia is one of those people.

Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of the ALCS, said: “Cecilia is a true inspiration to young girls and boys. She works hard to open up the world of reading and writing, and strives to make young people feel that they too can write; their stories are worth telling and can have a place in the world. We are delighted to see Cecilia recognised for all her hard work. Congratulations!”

Cecilia was chosen from a selection of talented writers by this year’s panel of judges, Di Redmond, (Non-Executive Director of ALCS), Antonia Byatt, (Chief Executive, First Story), Rob Smith (Director of Ministry of Stories) and Jonathan Douglas CBE (Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust) who were unanimous in their decision to reward Cecilia for her remarkable achievements. Former winners of the Award include Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell, Andy McNab and Karl Nova.


Young People’s Laureate for London

The Young People’s Laureate for London scheme was set up by Spread the Word in 2016 with a mission to:

  • Raise the visibility of poetry in the capital, nationally and internationally;
  • Engage and inspire London’s young people with poetry through the issues that affect them;
  • Support the development of London’s talented young poets in a tangible way.

Find out more at Spread the Word.