English Literature Student wins Coveted Writing Prize

A City and Islington English Literature student has scooped the Orwell Youth Prize for her ‘powerful’ and ‘well-balanced’ article on knife crime.

Jessica Tunks, 17, who is studying A Levels at City and Islington College, drew on her own personal experience and shared her thoughts on knife crime in her winning piece called Knifepoint. She was one of seven winners, chosen from 1,200 written compositions by young writers from across the UK, who took part in the competition run by The Orwell Foundation.

Jessica, from Walthamstow, east London, said: “I’m studying Orwell’s novel 1984 in my English Literature course. I’m really honoured to have been one of the winners of a prize in his name. I never expected this to happen, so I’m glad I chose to take the chance and enter. 

 “The issue I wrote about is really important to me and I’m glad that my thoughts on it will get a wider audience. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to write the piece in the first place, especially considering all the support I had with my writing.”

Read Jessica’s winning article Knifepoint and more about her inspiration for it here.

Jessica attended a Writing Wrongs Project, a series of workshops run over four weeks to help students prepare for the Orwell Youth Prize, where they were asked to submit an article.

She was chosen as the winner by investigative reporter Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for her article Pencils, Parties and Prison Sentences, focusing on young offenders, school expulsions and prisons.

The seven winning entries in the Orwell Youth Prize included short stories, journalistic essays and poetry, and were judged by writer Kerry Hudson and poet Kayo Chingonyi – read about the competition here

On Jessica’s entry, Kayo said: “This is a well-balanced piece written with emotion, structure, and backed by research which includes speaking to those directly affected by the themes under discussion. There is an overall sense of someone writing with an affinity for what they write about which lends the piece a moral authority that, coupled with the technical assurance evidenced across the piece as a whole, made Knifepoint stand out.”

The article was also praised by Rachel Sylvester, a political columnist for The Times, who helped shortlist the entries.

She said: “This is such a powerful piece about knife crime, written from personal experience. The author describes brilliantly the problems in the system and vividly sets out how early trauma can lead to the behaviour that triggers exclusion.”

The Orwell Youth Prize is a political writing competition for 12-18s and aims to give young people an opportunity to discuss and communicate their own ideas and thoughts on society today, and stems from George Orwell’s own political motivation for writing.

Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy also commended Jessica’s article, and said: “To write with such passion about knife crime and its impact is to be a voice that makes a difference; someone who isn’t beaten by injustice but is using their platform to call for us all to address it. In doing so, this essay embodies the relationship Orwell described so powerfully between independence of mind and changing the world.”

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Sixth Formers ‘Write Wrongs’ in Social Justice-Themed Journalism Workshop

Between February and March, twelve City and Islington College students attended a series of workshops at the college’s Sixth Form Centre in the Angel, Islington, led by investigative journalist Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi and supported by Sussex University.

Omonira-Oyekanmi edits for political project Shine a Light and writes for Lacuna Magazine, which targets injustice and promotes human rights.

Dubbed the ‘Writing Wrongs Project’, the workshops aimed to prepare students for entry into the celebrated Orwell Youth Prize. Aimed at 12-18 year olds, the Orwell Youth Prize annually invites young people to tackle a key theme around social justice. This year, the theme is ‘The Future We Want’.

Over the course of four weeks, participants developed key journalistic skills in research and writing, receiving one-on-one feedback on developing a story and verifying sources. At the end of the course, the sixth formers submitted an article for detailed feedback as final preparation for entry into the Orwell Youth Prize.

Of the 12 participating students, Omonira-Oyekanmi selected A Level student Jessica Tunks as the stand-out winner, whose article ‘Pencils, parties and prison sentences’ focused on young offenders, school expulsions and prisons.

Runner-up Abigail Forest submitted an article addressing sexual harassment and the impact on young people, which the journalist described as “a beautifully written piece combining personal testimony and comprehensive background research.”

Other entries looked at homelessness, sexual harassment, bullying and racism.

Omonira-Oyekanmi said: “The winning piece was a comprehensive, deeply researched article which looked at the schools to prisons pipeline for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. A compelling mix of reporting and storytelling, including interviews with a former pupil referral unit teacher and a powerful interview with one of the author’s friends.

“All the pieces were well researched and some were incredibly thoughtful and well-written.”

“Students worked really hard, juggling research alongside school work and making valuable contributions during workshops.

“I’m so pleased that despite all the drama of the pandemic and the cancellation of our final workshop and celebration day, some were able to submit final articles.”

The Orwell Youth Prize will be accepting entries until 6 May for those looking for personalised feedback; the final deadline is 11 June. Young people are invited to enter at here.

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