Winners of Asia House student writing competition announced

Winners of Asia House student writing competition announced

10 July 2015

By Jemimah Steinfeld

It was the toughest year to date for the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival Student Writing Competition, which this year attracted more than 600 entries.

Four young people from different schools across the UK walked away with the top gong, with a further four being announced as runners up following a special judging event held at Asia House.

Taking this year’s festival theme of Youth and Gender as inspiration, a total of 646 young people entered, writing stories in response to the famous Maoist quote ‘Women Hold Up Half the Sky’. This figure was up from 291 in 2014. From this four winners were chosen in four categories: fiction, 13-15; non-fiction, 13-15; fiction, 16-18; non-fiction, 16-18.

The winner of the older fiction category, Thea Al Hirsi from Hampstead School, London, wrote a powerful tale of a girl who takes off her abaya and hijab in a souk to soon be arrested by the Mutaween (Islamic religious police).

Following a similar theme of pressure on women to look a certain way, albeit from a different perspective, younger fiction winner Amelia Rawlings from Farnley Academy in Leeds wrote about a girl with an eating disorder, provoked by unrealistic images of women in magazines.

Also taking fire at the media was the piece by Amna Hussein from Heartland Academy, Birmingham, who illustrated how men and women are subject to differing expectations. Amna used examples of certain TV presenters to illustrate her arguments. She won the non-fiction 16-18 prize.

Meanwhile, Megan Gillespie from Redland Green, Bristol, wrote a persuasive argument about how the idea of gender is artificial, negative and instilled in children from an early age – and for this came first in the younger non-fiction category.

All the winning stories can be seen on the Asia House website here.

All four winners received Amazon vouchers. Runners-up were presented with books.

While girls held up the entire sky when it came to winning (all the finalists were female), a number of boys made the shortlist, writing about topics ranging from the role of women in football to a Chinese dystopia where the streets of Beijing only contained men.


Children from the Compton School, North Finchley, London, at the prize giving event. Pictured in the middle is Jolie Featherstone, who came second place in the 13-15 fiction competition.

This is the third year of our Student Writing Competition. It takes place annually as part of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival and wider outreach programme. In partnership with London’s Eastside Educational Trust, authors and creative writing facilitators visited 14 schools across the country and held workshops with young people. Five Asian books were introduced to the students at the workshops and through this the festival theme was explored. Students produced work for the competition at the end of these workshops.

Selection of the winners was a three-fold process. First a long list was drawn by facilitators and teachers from the workshops, narrowing down the initial list of 646 to 190. Then Asia House staff selected a shortlist of 19. These entries were uploaded onto the schools progamme site and members of the public were invited to judge. Over 1,000 submitted their preferences this way. A final tally was done at the prize giving ceremony itself, when all the short listed candidates were asked to read their work and those in attendance to vote via secret ballot. Around 120 children from across the country attended this event. Those who were unable to make it, who were in the shortlist, sent recorded readings of their stories that were shown at the event.

Manisha Amin, a teacher from Farnley Academy, said of the event: “It was lovely for me to see some of our students in a different environment and observe their maturity and interaction with unfamiliar people and they came up trumps.  I am sure this experience will stay with them for a very long time. Saquibuddin (Saq) [on the shortlist] did well and we are very proud of him.”

Integrated into the award ceremony was a careers salon. Four writers spoke to students in groups about their work experience and what advice they would give to their younger selves. On the panel was Prajwal Parajuly, author of The Ghurka’s Daughter and Land Where I Flee, Vicky Baker, Deputy Editor at Index on Censorship magazine, Heidi Kingstone, whose book Dispatches from the Kabul Café was featured in this year’s literature programme, and Akiho Schilz, one of the programme’s workshop facilitators, who works at The Literacy Consultancy.


Author Prajwal Parajuly is pictured giving a workshop to young people as part of our literature festival outreach programme

The panel was a particular highlight of the event. Luke Tokarz, a teacher at The Compton School, described it as “incredible” and said that “the Q&A really got the students and myself thinking.”

Reflecting on both the programme and the event, Kirsty Pattison, Creative Programme Manager at Eastside, said: “The event was a wonderful opportunity to get the schools we worked with together and for them to feel a part of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Festival of Literature. Hearing the students read their work alongside a panel of professional writers sharing their experiences was a great way of encouraging future writers and celebrating all the work that went into the project.”

Click here to read the stories that won first and second prize in all four categories. To read about last year’s prize, click here.

On October 6 writer, broadcaster and practising psychotherapist Lucy Beresford will discuss with The IndependentLiterary Editor Arifa Akbar her recently published novel Invisible Threads, a moving tale about women in India. To find out more click here.