John McCullough wins the 2020 Hawthornden Prize for Literature

Blog | Published on July 24, 2020

Reckless Paper Birds, McCullough’s acclaimed third collection, has been awarded the 2020 Hawthornden Prize.

Christopher Reid, judge of the 2020 Hawthornden Prize, said, “The vitality of the poems, their nimbleness, their wit and their music combine to mark Reckless Paper Birds as a rare literary phenomenon. The book, for all its undercurrents and complexities, is a frank and militant declaration of joy – gay in a double sense of the word – and should be taken very seriously.”


McCullough said, “I’m absolutely thrilled that Reckless Paper Birds has led to me joining the prestigious list of winners of the Hawthornden prize. Writing this collection felt like a risk for me with its explorations of vulnerability – I had to travel to deep places inside me I hadn’t visited before. I’m so glad if it’s helped anyone and that my little flock keeps finding new readers.”


Published in May 2019, Reckless Paper Birds has been described as ‘dazzling’ and ‘a celebration of abundance’ and was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award 2019. Find out more here.


The Hawthornden Prize is an annual literary award given to authors under the age of 41 on the quality of their imaginative writing in either poetry or prose. It has been running since 1919 and has been awarded to the likes of Graham Greene, Hilary Mantel, Colm Tóibín, and Alice Oswald.


John McCullough teaches creative writing at the University of Brighton, the Arvon Foundation and New Writing South, and lives in Hove, East Sussex. His first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs, won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012. It was a Book of the Year for The Independent and The Poetry School, and a summer read for The Observer. His second collection Spacecraft, published by Penned in the Margins in 2016, was described as ‘humane and spellbinding’.

Penned in the Margins creates publications and performances for people who are not afraid to take risks. From small beginnings as a reading series in a converted railway arch in south London, Penned in the Margins has grown over the last decade into a respected, award-winning literary arts company producing new work live, in print and online. Their books have been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award, TS Eliot Prize, Costa Poetry Award, Gordon Burn Prize and the International Dylan Thomas Prize; in 2017 they were shortlisted for the inaugural Clarissa Luard Award for Independent Publishers.

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