|Headquarters||Somerset House, London, England, United Kingdom|
|Dame Marina Warner DBE|
|Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall|
The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) is a learned society founded in 1820, by King George IV, to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent". The society is a cultural tenant at London's Somerset House.
The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) was founded in 1820, with the patronage of George IV, to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent", and its first president was Thomas Burgess, Bishop of St David's (who was later translated as Bishop of Salisbury).
At the heart of the RSL is its Fellowship, "which encompasses the most distinguished writers working today", with the RSL Council, Chair and President, who are responsible for its direction and management, being drawn from the Fellowship. As an independent charity, the RSL receives no regular public or government funding, relying on the support of its Members, Patrons, Fellows and friends to continue its work. The RSL has about 600 Fellows, elected from among the best writers in any genre currently at work. Additionally, Honorary Fellows are chosen from those who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of literature, including publishers, agents, librarians, booksellers or producers, or who have rendered special service to the RSL. Paid membership is open to all and offers a variety of benefits.
The society publishes an annual magazine, The Royal Society of Literature Review, and administers a number of literary prizes and awards, including the RSL Ondaatje Prize, the RSL Jerwood Awards for Non-Fiction, the RSL Encore Award for best second novel of the year and the V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize for short stories.
In 2020, the RSL celebrated its 200th anniversary with the announcement of RSL 200, "a five-year festival launched with a series of major new initiatives and 60 new appointments championing the great diversity of writing and writers in the UK".
The society maintains its current level of about 600 Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature: generally 14 new fellows are elected annually, who are accorded the privilege of using the post-nominal letters FRSL.
Past fellows include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, J. R. R. Tolkien, W. B. Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Koestler, Chinua Achebe, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Robert Ardrey, Sybille Bedford, Muriel Spark, P. J. Kavanagh, and Sir Roger Scruton. Present Fellows include Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo, David Hare, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel, Andrew Motion, Paul Muldoon, Zadie Smith, Nadeem Aslam, Sarah Waters, Geoffrey Ashe and J. K. Rowling. A newly created fellow inscribes his or her name on the society's official roll using either Byron's pen, T. S. Eliot's fountain pen, which replaced Dickens's quill in 2013, or (as of 2018) George Eliot's pen.
From time to time the RSL confers the honour and title of Companion of Literature to writers of particular note. Additionally the RSL can bestow its award of the Benson Medal for lifetime service in the field of literature.
The RSL runs a membership programme offering a variety of events to members and the general public. Membership of the RSL is open to all.
The RSL also runs an outreach programme, currently for young people and those in prison.
Awards and prizes
The RSL administers two annual prizes, two awards, and two honours. Through its prize programmes, the RSL supports new and established contemporary writers.
- The RSL Christopher Bland Prize — £10,000 for debut prose writers over the age of 50.
- The Encore Awards — £10,000 for best second novel of the year. The RSL took over the administration of this award in 2016.
- The RSL Giles St Aubyn Awards for Non-Fiction – annual awards, one of £10,000 and two of £5,000, to authors engaged on their first commissioned works of non-fiction.
- The RSL Ondaatje Prize – an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.
- The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize – an annual prize of £1,000 for the best unpublished short story of the year.
- The Benson Medal – awarded to those who have done sustained and outstanding service to literature.
- Companion of Literature – the highest honour that the Society can bestow upon a writer.
Council and presidents
The Council of the Royal Society of Literature is central to the election of new fellows, and directs the RSL's activities through its monthly meetings. Council members serve for a fixed term of four years, with new members being elected by Council when members retire.
- Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
- Dame Marina Warner DBE
- Chair of Council
- Daljit Nagra OBE
List of Presidents
- 1820–1832 Bishop Thomas Burgess
- 1832–1833 The Lord Dover
- 1834–1845 The Earl of Ripon
- 1845–1849 Henry Hallam
- 1849–1851 The Marquess of Northampton
- 1851–1856 The Earl of Carlisle
- 1856–1876 The Rt Rev. Connop Thirlwall (Bishop of St David's until 1874)
- 1876–1884 The Prince Leopold (Duke of Albany from 1881)
- 1885–1893 Sir Patrick Colquhoun
- 1893–1920 The Earl of Halsbury
- 1921–1945 The Marquess of Crewe
- 1946–1947 The Earl of Lytton
- 1947–1982 The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
- 1982–1988 Sir Angus Wilson
- 1988–2003 The Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
- 2003–2008 Sir Michael Holroyd
- 2008–2017 Colin Thubron
- 2017–present Marina Warner
The Royal Society of Literature comprises over 600 Fellows who are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FRSL.
New fellows of the Royal Society of Literature are elected by its current fellows. To be nominated for fellowship, a writer must have published two works of literary merit, and nominations must be seconded by an RSL fellow. All nominations are presented to members of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature, who vote biannually to elect new fellows. Nominated candidates who have not been successful are reconsidered at every election for three years from the year in which they were proposed. Newly elected fellows are introduced at the Society's AGM and summer party. While the President reads a citation for each, they are invited to sign their names in the roll book which dates back to 1820, using either T. S. Eliot's fountain pen or Byron's pen. In 2013, Charles Dickens's quill was retired and replaced with Eliot's fountain pen, and in 2018 George Eliot's pen was offered as a choice, the first time in the RSL's history that a pen that belonged to a woman writer was an option. In 2018 the RSL honoured the achievements of Britain's younger writers through the initiative "40 Under 40", which saw the election of 40 new fellows aged under 40.
The * before the name denotes an Honorary Fellow. The list is online at the RSL website.
- "History". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "Fellows". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "About us — Who we are". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "Membership". The Royal Society of Litterature. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "Royal Society of Literature » Magazine selections".
- "Royal Society of Literature celebrates 200th birthday with 60 appointments and five-year festival (Press release)" (PDF). The Royal Society of Literature. 30 November 2020. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "Royal Society of Literature » History". rsliterature.org. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
- "The RSL elects 40 new Fellows under the age of 40", The Royal Society of Literature press release, June 2018.
- "Royal Society of Literature » Membership".
- "About Us – Council". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- Alison Flood, "Royal Society of Literature admits 40 new fellows to address historical biases", The Guardian, 28 June 2018.
- Dr Robert Douglas-Fairhurst Archived 11 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Peter Kemp".
- "Current RSL Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 26 April 2018.