'He lights up the world with his words and his love': Top authors and illustrators on John Agard's Lifetime Achievement Award win
Published on: 09 November 2021
John Agard has won the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award - and the news has prompted an outpouring of love from other authors and illustrators. Here, we share some of the responses...
Photo: David Bebber
The Lifetime Achievement Award judges on why they chose John
Piers Torday, Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 judge and author
'John Agard is not just one of our greatest poets and writers for children, but one of our greatest writers period. With every word, every line, he reinvents the form and challenges readers to see the world afresh, whilst always inviting them in at the same time.
'For over 40 years, he has championed poetry in schools - sometimes a lonely path - and made us sing and dance with joy along the way. He is a master of his art, a superb communicator and a born storyteller - his contribution to children's love of literature in this country is immeasurable and this recognition is long overdue.'
Candy Gourlay, Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 judge and author
'John Agard is the national treasure that, shamefully, some of us have never heard of. His work has been quietly infusing the nation's creative spaces for decades, inspiring and challenging, questioning and questing, visiting themes and ways of being that tend to be left unexamined, unexplored, underestimated by an undiverse publishing industry.
The man has persisted though, physically delivering his work from door to door, from school to school, from stage to stage. Like him, his writings PERSIST.
'In short print runs and small collections and independent publishings, always fighting to be heard, always rising, a one-man revolution. He makes us laugh and makes us think, he plays with language, attacks it, makes it his own. He can be subversive, explosive; at the same time wise, thoughtful, moving. It seems John Agard has been on the National Curriculum forever, but that work is just a tiny glimpse of the worlds he has in store for young readers.'
Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 judge and author
Darren Chetty, Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 judge and teacher
'John Agard is a wonderful writer and performer with that rare ability to write for a wide age range and to connect with his audience both on page and in person. His work explores language and culture with curiosity, criticality and humour, resisting neat categorisation for something richer and altogether more interesting.
'For many people in the UK, in the 1970s and 1980s, John was one of the only writers from the Caribbean that they encountered at school. His linguistic dexterity is in sharp contrast to the language codes enforced on many children. Many of today's young poets grew up reading John at school and following in his footsteps - sometimes literally, as they tour schools in the way that he has done for decades.'
Nicolette Jones, Chair
'John Agard has helped to change the scope of children's literature. He revels in a range of language from the everyday to the specialist, embracing the possibilities of English, and bringing sources we might think of as rarefied – Dante, the Greek myths, scientific terminology – into the experience of all youngsters.
'As a performer and as a writer he has spread his enthusiasm and his joyous delight in words and stories to his audiences for decades and opened doors for them all as readers and writers. His work is full of fun, but it also tells young people that nothing is too ambitious for them to engage with.'
And celebrations from other authors and illustrators...
Photos: David Bebber
'Congratulations, John! This is so well deserved. Thank you for bringing so much energy and fun and intelligence to us all. In these deeply weird times, we need you more than ever!'
'What has always drawn me to John Agard's poetry is the wit and playfulness he brings to it, even when he's writing about important issues. And it's rare to find a poet who can appeal to such a wide age range. So many congratulations to John on winning this award – richly deserved.'
'John Agard's poetry has always been a beacon of humour, insight and identity. Truly inspirational, his poems don't just bridge countries and cultures, they bridge gaps.'
'Thank you, John, for connecting me and my daughter to our heritage through your poetry.'
'Read John Agard and you'll enjoy every poem, and every one of them will leave you wondering. Listen to John Agard reading his poems and you'll love the music in everyone. Read them often enough and you'll want to write poems yourself.
'Meet John Agard and you'll have met the warmest of men, and you'll have met one of our finest poets. How many thousands of children and grown-up children must there now be who have come to love poetry, and write their own poetry, through the work of John Agard? No writer deserves this award more than John.'
'John Agard is a force of nature. A writer whose work transcends generations, when he is in a room, any room, people of all ages whisper in awe, 'That's John Agard!' and a conversation about his poetry is inevitable.
'His words are studied, savoured and remembered and on top of that he is a completely lovely, generous and welcoming individual. His enthusiasm for the written word leaps off the page and fizzes from his performances. He is a writer who always surprises, straddling genres and mediums. He is an inspiration to all and continues to be an inspiration to me and I can't wait to see what wonders of poetry and stories he cooks up next.'
'John Agard's excellence for me, becomes evident when one realises the complexity of his poems – how layered they are and how they offer various readings. Yet they are in the first instance clear and they communicate. While illustrating Coyote's Soundbite, I realised that I had a smile on my face all the time, or chuckled, despite the fact that I really had to focus very hard and think a lot about all the very contemporary issues the text addresses.'
'The Caribbean Culture into which John Agard was born has always made his work sing, and the lilt and cadence of his voice rings through the witty and wise collection Half-Caste – rightly deemed one of the 50 best children's books published between 1950 and 2014 - and all his other works. His energetic and engaging performances bear out his claim that when poetry is spoken aloud you can 'feel its music in the mouth'.
'We all cherish the anthologies he and Grace Nichols edited together, like Under the Moon and Over the Sea, a collection of Caribbean poetry by over 30 poets – a worthy winner of the inaugural Centre for Literacy in Primary Education poetry prize, CLiPPA. But also to be valued is his intelligent and innovative approach, for example in his brilliantly original urban retelling of Dante for young people, Young Inferno (another CLiPPA winner).
'It's rare for anyone's work to be loved equally by children, young people and adults. So it's wonderful for all of us, with this award, to be able to praise the singer along with all his songs.'
'John Agard. There is no one like him on the page, or on the stage. He is a pioneer. He is unique. BookTrust's Lifetime Achievement Award was made for him. He lights up the world with his words and his love. He really is a force for good.'
Cressida Cowell, author and Waterstones Children's Laureate
'I am thrilled that John Agard is receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award, not only because he is a wondrous poet, but also because he has been an astonishing lifetime champion for poetry itself, a medium that as John says himself, 'lives in the breath'.
'John Agard is truly a magician with words. In joyously anarchic language, he writes poetry that can be comic and moving and challenging all at the same time. It is poetry that surprises, that moves energetically, stirs up all the thoughts in your brain, making you think harder about the wonder and the curiosity of the world all around you. It is a stunning body of work, and he could not be a more worthy winner of this Lifetime Achievement Award.'