Lisa Smith has won the 2019 Pat Kavanagh Prize, presented by United Agents, for her novel-in-progress about two children with Jamaican heritage growing up in early-1980s south London.
The award is presented annually to an outstanding piece of work by a graduate of the MA Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Now in its tenth year, the £500 prize was introduced in memory of the much-admired literary agent Pat Kavanagh, who died in 2008. It is judged and awarded by a team of Kavanagh’s colleagues at United Agents, in association with the Goldsmiths’ Writers Centre.
At a Goldsmiths event on Wednesday 16 January, the Pat Kavanagh Prize was presented by United Agents’ Sarah Ballard, following an introduction by Kavanagh’s husband Julian Barnes and readings by the shortlisted writers.
On receiving the Prize, Lisa said: “I’d like to thank my supervisors Ardashir Vakil and Tom Lee for their brilliant advice and patience, the amazing women I’ve been workshopping with who have given such generous feedback, and my husband for his love and support – and he’s also an excellent spellchecker.
“Coming back to university, and getting a distinction, now winning this, is a marvellous fuck you to breast cancer.”
Commenting on Lisa’s work, Sarah Ballard said: “Lisa’s novel The Land of Milk and Honey follows Daphne as she meets fellow-Jamaican Christopher in a hostile school yard, and forms a nervous friendship with him. This is a novel peopled with engaging and vivid characters.
“We knew and cared about each of them; we cringed with Daphne as she watched Christopher making critical mistakes with the bullies at school – and we felt the power dynamic in that environment. Lisa is a very worthy winner of the Pat Kavanagh Prize.”
The Land of Milk and Honey is told by Daphne and unfolds in flashback, starting in 1996 when Christopher is on trial for murder and all Daphne can do is act as a character witness. Frustrated that she can’t do more, Daphne leaves court thinking back on what brought Christopher to this terrible place. She recalls when Christopher first appeared in class, January 1981; a week after an arson attack in New Cross claimed the lives of 13 black teenagers. 10-year-old Daphne lives in fear of bullying and racism but Christopher has no intention of fading into the background. Daphne soon comes to realise that despite appearing to be opposites, they have much in common: discontented and secretive mothers, absent fathers and race.
Lisa Smith was born in London, and studied Combined Arts at The University of Liverpool. She became a filmmaker and has directed documentaries on subjects as varied as stand-up comedy in prisons and childbirth. After spending a few years writing up more ideas for short stories than TV programmes, Lisa applied to Goldsmiths.
Work by graduates who had achieved a distinction in their MA was submitted to United Agents earlier this year, with Elisabeth Denison, Helen Longstreth, Susannah Dickey, Keshava Guha, Lisa Smith, Kate Richards, Sam Dixon, Declan Pleydell-Pearce, Alan Davies and Lorraine Jones considered for the prize.
Helen Longstreth was named runner-up, for her writing on a young woman whose alcoholic father dies while she is studying in California.
Previous winners of the Pat Kavanagh Prize are Jonathan Holt, David Nash, Giovanna Iozzi, Julia Rotte, Luiza Sauma, Paul Carney, Bex Barton, Karen Raney and Kate Kerrow.
Find out more about the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths.