The Barbellion Prize is dedicated to the furtherance of ill and disabled voices in writing.

The prize is awarded annually to an author whose work has best spoken of the experience of chronic illness and/or disability.

The awarded work can be of any genre in fiction, memoir, biography, poetry, or critical non-fiction from around the world - whether it is in English, in translation, traditionally published, or self-published.

The prize is named in homage to English diarist W.N.P. Barbellion, who wrote eloquently on his life with multiple sclerosis (MS) before his death in 1919.

It is to be awarded on February 12th 2021, with prize money amounting to £1000.

Submissions are open now and end October 31st 2020. Please feel free to donate using the links below to help continue this prize.

Advisor to the Prize, Professor Tom Shakespeare FBA, Professor of Disability Research at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, comments: "Writers with illnesses and impairments, from Robert Louis Stevenson to Flannery O'Connor to 'W.N.P. Barbellion' himself, have contributed mightily to literature. I applaud the creation of this new prize, hoping it will shine a spotlight on their contemporary successors."


Author and Assistant Professor of Literature, Dr Shahd Alshammari, and member of the judging panel says: "The Barbellion Prize seeks to amplify voices that are seldom heard, and if they are, they’re not heard enough. It is a privilege reading all this wonderful work and I hope that more publishers discover disabled writers’ writing."


​A statement from our founder and prize director, Jake Goldsmith:

"Illness is ubiquitous, but it is often neglected in our thoughts or it is thoroughly misunderstood. There is a long history of great artists and writers living with illness, from Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Katherine Mansfield, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, and many others (see our 'Authors Old & New' page). 

All of these writers produced estimable work partly because of their various illnesses and the distinctive perspectives illness gave them; implicitly or explicitly. 

Their spiritual legacy still exists today, and should be celebrated.

The experiences of the ill and the disabled still regularly go unnoticed by the wider public, or they remain unsaid. And yet the expression of a phenomenology of illness is perhaps capable of being our most laudable and essential literature. It deserves a much greater audience.

"This matter of ill-health is more personal, more essentially of the ego than anything in the world; more than love, for that can be given expression; more than religion, because that is a satisfaction in itself; more than fear, for that passes. Pain is personal, before everything. Only one who has experienced it in some measure can understand its significance in life." - Richmond H. Hellyar, in W. N. P. Barbellion (1926).

While also rewarding people for writing while ill or disabled, we also hope to encourage others who live with long-term illness and disability to further demonstrate those realities in print - fictionally or otherwise."


Prize Eligibility (also see our 'FAQs' page): 


Eligibility for the prize consists in the author’s presentation of life with a long-term chronic illness or disability, whether that be in the form of blindness, MS, cystic fibrosis, dwarfism, or another comparable condition that may substantially define one’s life.

Authors - such as those in a carer's capacity - who themselves are not ill may be considered for the prize if their work is truly exceptional as an articulation of life with illness, but authors who themselves deal with illness or disability will take priority in any selection for the prize.

If you are an author or publisher wishing to submit a work, please consult our 'How To Submit A Work' page. If you have any questions, look at our 'FAQs' or contact us in confidence via our email (see below). 

What is important to us is not any particular moral or message in a given work but rather greater visibility for, and a genuine illustration of, life with illness, disease, impairment, or disability.






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With support from The Multiple Sclerosis Trust

Credit for The Barbellion Prize logo goes to Norah Al Shammari

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