Scottish rapper and writer Darren McGarvey has been awarded the UK’s most prestigious prize for political writing at a ceremony in London.
McGarvey, also known as Loki, was honoured with the Orwell prize for Books for his “searing examination” of working-class life in ‘Poverty Safari’.
The prize is awarded by The Orwell Foundation each year to the book which comes closest to the English writer George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art.’
The book, McGarvey’s first, aims to give a voice to people in deprived communities across the country and features autobiographical notes from the rapper on his own experience growing up in Pollok.
Chairman of judges Andrew Adonis described similarities between the book and some of Orwell’s work, adding: “George Orwell would have loved this book. It echoes Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier.”
“It is heart-rending in its life story and its account of family breakdown and poverty. But by the end there is not a scintilla of self-pity and a huge amount of optimism.”
He continued: “It made me see the country and its social condition in a new light.”
McGarvey joins the likes of Labour home secretary Alan Johnson and novelist James Meek as winners of the prize.
Fellow judge Alex Clark, added: “What distinguishes Poverty Safari from a ‘straight’ description of a working-class life is his searing examination of the narratives that surround poverty and the way in which no individual, least of all him, can neatly be fitted into them.”
McGarvey, who writes a weekly column for The Scotsman, was presented with a cheque for £3,000 by Richard Blair, George Orwell’s son, on what would have been Orwell’s 115th birthday at a ceremony at the Royal Society of Arts building in London.
Speaking after being awarded the prize, McGarvey said: “I can’t quite believe it to be honest.”. He added: “As a writer, obviously this is tremendously satisfying, but what’s more important is the subject I’ve chosen to write about, which is poverty. It’s something that even the people fighting it often misunderstand.”
“What I hoped to emphasise with the book is that poverty is more than data or statistics. It’s an experience that shapes values and attitudes and a failure to understand this and address it has led to great political instability in the UK.”
McGarvey continued: “I’m just happy to do my bit in drawing attention to a lot of the nuance that is missed whenever we discuss the issue.”