Essay Reflecting On Italian Heritage Wins Wigtown’s New £1,500 Literary Prize

  • Dani Garavelli’s writing praised as ‘brilliantly observed’ and ‘emotionally astute’
  • Commendation for Jemma Neville’s heartbreaking essay on losing a newborn baby
  • Award aims to be Scotland’s bold champion for the best non-fiction writing and writers

Scotland’s newest literary award, the Anne Brown Essay Prize, has been won by journalist and documentary maker Dani Garavelli.

Her essay, The Bequest, is a moving and honest reflection on family, belonging and her cultural heritage as an Italian Scot.

Dani was one of eight finalists, with the winner being announced yesterday (26 September) during a special event at the Wigtown Book Festival.

She was presented with the £1,500 prize and a trophy (designed by artist Astrid Jaekel) by Anne Brown’s daughter Jo Lawrence.

The event was introduced by Anne’s son Richard Brown, a film and TV director whose credits include True Detective, Catch-22, Outlaw King and 44 Inch Chest.

Richard said: “My mother was a tireless champion of this festival. She was never happier than when she was here and the festival was in full flow.
“At the time of her passing we thought, as a family, that the creation of this prize would be an excellent way to commemorate Anne and support the festival in a way that reflected her many interests in literature, her curiosity about people and love of Scotland – she really loved Scotland.”
The judges praised The Bequest as: “An account of family, belonging and what ties us together as humans that is emotionally astute, brilliantly observed and moves flawlessly between the particular and the general.”

Dani Garavelli is an award-winning freelance journalist specialising in features, columns and reportage, and has work published in Scottish and UK titles including Scotland on Sunday, The Guardian, LRB, The New Statesman and The Big Issue. She has also made Radio 4 documentaries.

Dani said: “It’s just an absolute thrill to win this prize. It was it was so exciting just to see my name alongside other people’s whose work I love and respect and to be among them. And then to win was so unexpected.”
She welcomed the creation of the prize as providing a much needed new forum in Scotland for long reads and went on to pay tribute to Anne’s journalism – which she described as “inspirational” and “forensic”.

The judges also gave a special commendation to Jemma Neville for her essay Away with Birds, a heartbreaking account of losing a newborn baby during the pandemic.

Adrian Turpin, artistic director of Wigtown Book Festival, said: “The quality of the finalists was outstanding. Any one of them could have made a worthy winner. The panel faced an incredibly difficult choice.
“The Bequest is an extremely personal piece of writing about family relationships. But in Dani’s hands it becomes universal.
“The prize is an important addition to Scotland’s literary landscape. This year lays a very strong foundation for the future, for this prize to build and build in strength and to become Scotland’s bold champion for the best non-fiction writing and writers.”

The award ceremony, at Wigtown’s County Buildings, was among the highlights of the opening weekend of the festival, which has returned after going entirely digital last year, and has a full programme of in person events which run until 4 October.

The award shortlist featured established and emerging talents from the worlds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. Subjects addressed range from parental loss and racial violence, to climate change, family secrets and Covid.

The 2021 shortlist (see accompanying document for biographies) was:

  • Polly Clark: Even After Everything
  • Dani Garavelli: The Bequest
  • Katie Goh: Oranges
  • Patrick Laurie: Peat
  • Victoria Mackenzie: I Am a Plant
  • Sonali Misra: Dear Sonali
  • Jemma Neville: Away with the Birds
  • Chitra Ramaswamy: Three Meditations on Absence in Nature and Life.

The judges were broadcaster Sally Magnusson; Jules Danskin, co-founder of Extra Teeth magazine; Larissa MacFarquhar of The New Yorker; and Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature and Literacies at the University of Glasgow.

The essays will be published on the Wigtown Book Festival website at www.wigtownbookfestival.com.

  • The Anne Brown Essay Prize is organised by the Wigtown Book Festival in association with BBC Radio Scotland.
  • It celebrates the best recent literary essay by a writer in or from Scotland and rewards precise writing, original thinking, curiosity and creative approaches to non-fiction.
  • The prize commemorates Anne Brown (1942-2021), former chair of Wigtown Book Festival, who was also a radio journalist and senior producer and is generously supported by her children.

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