Royal Society of Literature

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Royal Society of Literature
Abbreviation RSL
Formation 1820
Type Learned society
Headquarters Somerset House, London
Colin Thubron CBE

The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) is a learned society and the "senior literary organisation in Britain". It was founded in 1820 by King George IV to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent".[1]

The society's first president was Thomas Burgess, Bishop of St David's (who was later translated as Bishop of Salisbury). The society maintains its current level of about 450 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 and P.J. Kavanagh. Present Fellows include Antonia Fraser, Athol Fugard, V. S. Naipaul, Peter Dickinson, Tom Stoppard, Helen Dunmore and J. K. Rowling. A newly created fellow inscribes their name on the society's official roll using either Byron's pen or T.S. Eliot's fountain pen, which replaced Dickens's quill in 2013.[2]

The society publishes an annual magazine, The Royal Society of Literature Review,[3] and administers a number of literary prizes and awards, including the RSL Ondaatje Prize, the RSL Jerwood Awards for Non-Fiction and the V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize for short stories. From time to time it 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 also runs a membership scheme (RSLM)[4] and offers a varied programme of monthly lectures to members and their guests.

The society is a cultural tenant at London's palatial Somerset House.

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 Brookleaze Grants - a total of £5,000 is awarded annually to novelists, playwrights, poets or short story writers who need time away from their normal lives to write.
  • The RSL Jerwood Award's for Non-Fiction (1902) – three 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 (1882) – 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.

Patron Queen Elizabeth II

President Colin Thubron CBE

President Emeritus Sir Michael Holroyd CBE FRHistS C Lit

Chair of Council Jenny Uglow CBE

Anne Chisholm OBE
Maureen Duffy
Maggie Gee OBE
The Hon. Victoria Glendinning CBE
Sir Ronald Harwood CBE
Dame Hilary Mantel DBE
Philip Pullman CBE
Claire Tomalin

Kamila Shamsie, Vice Chair
Colin Chisholm, Hon Treasurer
Imtiaz Dharker
Lavinia Greenlaw
Jonathan Keates
Peter Kemp
Dame Hermione Lee DBE
Deborah Moggach
Blake Morrison
Andrew O'Hagan
Fiona Sampson
Ali Smith CBE
Timberlake Wertenbaker
Frances Wilson



The Royal Society of Literature comprises up to 500 fellows. They include most of the best novelists, short-story writers, poets, playwrights, biographers, historians, travel writers, literary critics and scriptwriters at work today. 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.[5]

Current fellows

Fellow Year of
*Julia Abel Smith DL 2008
Peter Ackroyd CBE 1984
Richard Adams 1975
Adamson JP FSA FRHistS 1983
Fleur Adcock CNZM OBE 1984
Diran Adebayo 2006
John Agard 2007
Brian Aldiss OBE 1990
Keith Alldritt 1978
Fergus Allen CB 2000
David Almond 2011
*David Altaras 1996
Martin Amis 1983
Mark Amory 1996
Carole Angier 2002
Lisa Appignanesi OBE 2015
Simon Armitage CBE 2004
Karen Armstrong 2005
Bruce Arnold OBE 1994
Geoffrey Ashe 1963
Michael Asher 1996
Rosemary Ashton OBE FBA 1999
Nadeem Aslam 2010
Diana Athill OBE 2001
Kate Atkinson 2010
Margaret Atwood CC FRSC C Lit 2010
Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE 1991
Paul Bailey 1999
Sarah Bakewell 2012
Michael Baldwin 1984
John Banville 2007
Richard Barber FSA FRHistS 1971
Juliet Barker 2001
Pat Barker CBE 1995
Correlli Barnett CBE 1964
Sebastian Barry 2009
Susan Bassnett 2007
Jonathan Bate CBE FBA 2004
Martin Bax 2002
Dame Gillian Beer DBE FBA 2006
Antony Beevor 1999
Rosalind Belben 1999
Anne Olivier Bell MBE 1984
Anthea Bell 2013
Bernard Bergonzi 1984
*James Berry 2007
Christopher Bigsby 2000
*Robert Binyon 2000
Dea Birkett 2000
Julia Blackburn 2002
Malorie Blackman OBE 2009
Sir Quentin Blake CBE RDI 2013
Ronald Blythe, Benson Medallist 1970
William Boyd CBE 1982
Melvyn Bragg (The Lord Bragg DL) 1971
Piers Brendon 2010
Raymond Briggs 1993
Robin Briggs FBA FRHistS 1999
Hugh Brogan 1987
Anita Brookner CBE 1982
Alan Brownjohn 1999
James Buchan 2001
Moira Buffini 2014
John Burnside 1999
A. S. Byatt (Dame Antonia Byatt DBE) 1983
David Cairns CBE 2001
Carmen Callil 2010
Sir David Cannadine FBA FSA FRHistS 1999
John Carey FBA 1982
Peter Carey AO 1989
Ciaran Carson 2014
Miranda Carter 2011
Justin Cartwright 2002
David Caute JP 1998
Glen Cavaliero 1986
Hugh Cecil 1997
Aidan Chambers 2009
Amit Chaudhuri 2009
Tracy Chevalier 2008
Anne Chisholm OBE 1989
Rupert Christiansen 1997
Kate Clanchy 2010
Susannah Clapp 2013
Gillian Clarke 2000
John Clay 1998
Jonathan Coe 2012
Morton N. Cohen 1996
Isabel Colegate 1981
Linda Colley (Lady Cannadine CBE FBA FRHistS) 2004
Tony Connor 1972
P. J. Conrad 1974
Peter Conradi 2010
David Constantine 2007
Wendy Cope OBE 1992
John Cornwell 1985
Frank Cottrell Boyce 2012
Jim Crace 1999
Kevin Crossley-Holland 1998
Tony Curtis 2000
Rachel Cusk 2012
David Dabydeen 2000
William Dalrymple FRGS FRAS 1995
Richard Davenport-Hines FRHistS 2003
Andrew Davies 1996
Norman Davies CMG FBA FRHistS 2013
Paul Davies 1999
Stevie Davies 1998
Dick Davis 1981
Richard Dawkins FRS 1997
Louis de Bernières 2006
Alain de Botton 2011
Anita Desai, Benson Medallist 1978
Imtiaz Dharker 2010
Peter Dickinson OBE 1999
David Dilks FRHistS 1986
Jenny Diski 1999
Maura Dooley 2006
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst[6] 2015
Roddy Doyle 2003
Dame Margaret Drabble DBE 1973
Dame Carol Ann Duffy DBE 1999
Maureen Duffy FKC, Benson Medallist, Vice President 1985
Ian Duhig 2006
Katherine Duncan-Jones 1991
Helen Dunmore 1997
Douglas Dunn OBE 1981
Jane Dunn 1999
Nell Dunn 2004
Geoff Dyer 2005
*Umberto Eco 1991
David Edgar 1985
Max Egremont (The Lord Egremont DL FSA) 2001
Menna Elfyn 2015
Anne Enright 2010
Sir Richard Evans FBA FRHistS FLSW 1999
Bernardine Evaristo MBE 2004
Sir Richard Eyre CBE 2011
Ruth Fainlight 2007
Duncan Fallowell 2015
Moris Farhi MBE 2001
Paul Farley 2012
Sebastian Faulks CBE 1994
Elaine Feinstein 1981
James Fenton FSA 1983
Adam Fergusson MEP 2009
Maggie Fergusson MBE 2007
The Hon William Fiennes 2009
Orlando Figes 2003
Anne Fine OBE 2003
Tibor Fischer 2003
Roy Fisher 2005
Richard Ford 2012
Aminatta Forna 2012
Margaret Forster 1974
Richard Fortey FRS 2009
Roy Foster FBA FRHistS 1992
Adam Foulds 2009
Lady Antonia Fraser DBE 2003
Robert Fraser 2007
Michael Frayn C Lit 1969
Maureen Freely 2011
Brian Friel C Lit 1998
Athol Fugard 1986
John Fuller 1980
Jane Gardam OBE 2005
*Anthony Gardner 2004
Philip Gardner 1986
Alan Garner OBE 2011
Timothy Garton Ash CMG 2005
Bamber Gascoigne 1976
Jamila Gavin 2015
Maggie Gee OBE, Vice-President 1994
Adèle Geras 2013
Amitav Ghosh 2009
Sir David Gilmour Bt 1990
Mark Girouard FSA Hon FRIBA 1994
Lesley Glaister 1994
The Hon Victoria Glendinning CBE, Vice-President 1982
Julian Gloag 1970
Magdalen Goffin 1980
Lyndall Gordon 2002
Warwick Gould 1997
Grey Gowrie (The Earl of Gowrie PC) 2003
Linda Grant 2013
A. C. Grayling 2006
Peter Green 1956
Lavinia Greenlaw 2004
John Gribbin 1999
Romesh Gunesekera 2004
Abdulrazak Gurnah 2006
Tessa Hadley 2009
John Haffenden FBA 1986
The Lord Hague PC 2009
John Halperin 1985
Georgina Hammick 2001
Christopher Hampton CBE 1976
Barbara Hardy FBA 1997
Sir David Hare 1985
Claire Harman 2006
Richard Harries (The Rt Rev The Lord Harries of Pentregarth) 1996
Alexandra Harris 2013
Robert Harris 1996
Sir Wilson Harris 2007
Tony Harrison 1984
David Harsent 1999
Sir Ronald Harwood CBE, Vice-President 1974
Sir Max Hastings FRHistS 1996
Lady Selina Hastings 1994
Roy Hattersley (The Lord Hattersley PC) 2003
Cameron Hazlehurst FRHistS 1973
Shirley Hazzard 1998
Tim Heald 2000
*Drue Heinz Hon DBE 2002
John Hemming CMG 2013
Philip Hensher 1998
W.N. Herbert 2015
Rosemary Hill 2010
Tobias Hill 2011
Bevis Hillier 1997
Tim Hilton 1993
Barry Hines 1977
Eva Hoffman 2007
*Ursula Holden 2010
Alan Hollinghurst 1995
Richard Holmes OBE FBA 1975
Sir Michael Holroyd CBE FRHistS C Lit, President Emeritus 1968
Hugh Honour FBA 1972
Christopher Hope 1990
Nick Hornby 1996
Sir Alistair Horne CBE 1968
Kathryn Hughes FRHistS 2006
Shirley Hughes OBE 2000
Lucy Hughes-Hallett 2010
Emyr Humphreys 1995
Roland Huntford 2001
Aamer Hussein 2004
Angela Huth 1978
Samuel Hynes 1978
Robert Irwin 2001
Kazuo Ishiguro OBE 1989
Ian Jack 2009
Dan Jacobson 2007
Howard Jacobson 2012
Clive James CBE AM 2010
Kathleen Jamie 2009
Deborah Jay 2005
Alan Jenkins 2002
Sir Simon Jenkins FSA 2003
Liz Jensen 2005
Linton Kwesi Johnson 2013
*Paula Johnson 2008
Jennifer Johnston 2009
Steve Jones 2011
Jenny Joseph 1999
Gabriel Josipovici FBA 1997
Alan Judd 1990
Margaret Jull Costa 2013
P. J. Kavanagh 1986
Jackie Kay MBE 2002
Jonathan Keates FSA 1992
Laurence Kelly 2003
Linda Kelly 2010
Peter Kemp [7] 2015
Thomas Keneally AO 1973
A. L. Kennedy 1999
*HRH The Duke of Kent KG 1978
Mimi Khalvati 2009
Thomas Kilroy 1972
Matthew Kneale 2003
Shiv K. Kumar 1978
Hanif Kureishi CBE 2008
David Kynaston 2010
Nick Laird 2013
John Lanchester 2002
Robin Lane Fox 1974
Lee Langley 1996
James Lasdun 2009
Bryony Lavery 2002
Zachary Leader 2007
Dame Hermione Lee DBE FBA 1992
Brendan Lehane 1999
Mike Leigh OBE 2008
Laurence Lerner 1984
Andrea Levy 2005
Paul Levy 1980
Gwyneth Lewis 1999
Jeremy Lewis 1992
Dame Penelope Lively DBE 1985
Samuel Lock 2001
David Lodge CBE 1976
Michael Longley CBE 1988
Roger Lonsdale FBA 1989
Edward Lucie-Smith 1964
Andrew Lycett 2010
Richard Mabey 2011
Fiona MacCarthy OBE 1997
Geraldine McCaughrean 2009
Ian McDonald AA 1970
Ian McEwan CBE 1983
Robert Macfarlane 2011
Roger McGough CBE 2004
Patrick McGrath 2002
Shena Mackay 1999
Denis Mack Smith CBE FBA 1977
Rory MacLean 2007
Margaret MacMillan 2003
Candia McWilliam 1994
Brenda Maddox 1999
Sir Noel Malcolm FBA 1997
David Malouf 2008
Norman Manea 2011
Alberto Manguel 2010
Philip Mansel 2010
Dame Hilary Mantel DBE, Vice-President 1990
Patrick Marber 2002
Patrick Marnham 1988
Philip Marsden 1996
Rosalind Marshall 1974
Adam Mars-Jones 2007
Allan Massie CBE 1982
Hishan Matar 2012
Douglas Matthews MBE FCLIP, Benson Medallist 1998
Glyn Maxwell 1999
Derwent May 1996
Ved Mehta 2009
Edward Mendelson 2003
Jeffrey Meyers 1983
Mary Midgley 2007
China Miéville 2015
Andrew Miller 2012
Michael Millgate FRSC 1983
Pankaj Mishra 2008
Rohinton Mistry 2009
David Mitchell 2013
Julian Mitchell FSA 1985
Deborah Moggach 1999
Ray Monk 2015
Caroline Moorehead OBE 1993
Michael Morpurgo OBE 2004
Jan Morris CBE 1961
Blake Morrison 1988
Nicholas Mosley (The Lord Ravensdale MC) 1980
Sir Andrew Motion 1984
Sir Ferdinand Mount Bt 1991
Paul Muldoon 1981
Alice Munro C Lit 2002
Dervla Murphy 2013
Richard Murphy 1968
V. S. Naipaul (Sir Vidia Naipaul C Lit) 1962
Venetia Newall FSA FRGS 1980
Charles Nicholl 2005
Grace Nichols 2007
Peter Nichols 1983
William Nicholson 1999
Adam Nicolson (The Lord Carnock FSA) 2005
The Hon Gerard Noel 1999
John Julius Norwich (The Viscount Norwich CVO FSA) 1970
Robert Nye 1977
Edna O'Brien 2011
Sean O'Brien 2007
Bernard O'Donoghue 1999
Julia O'Faolain 1998
Andrew O'Hagan 2010
Redmond O'Hanlon 1993
Ben Okri OBE 1997
*Sir Christopher Ondaatje OC CBE 2003
Michael Ondaatje OC 2012
Charles Osborne 1996
Helen Oyeyemi 2012
Ruth Padel 1998
Alan Palmer 1980
Peter Parker 1997
Don Paterson 2004
Jill Paton Walsh 1996
Brian Patten 2003
Tim Pears 2012
Humphrey Phelps 1977
Adam Phillips 2012
Caryl Phillips 2000
Mike Phillips 2000
David Plante 2002
Piers Plowright 1998
Stephen Poliakoff CBE 1985
David Pownall 1976
(Baron) David Profumo 1995
David Pryce-Jones 1980
Philip Pullman CBE, Vice-President 2001
Isabel Quigly 1989
Craig Raine 1984
Nicholas Rankin 2009
Frederic Raphael 1964
Piers Paul Read 1972
Anne Redmon 1980
Christopher Reid 1999
Sir Christopher Ricks FBA 1970
Professor The Hon Jane Ridley 2007
The Viscount Ridley DL FMedSci 1999
William Rivière 2000
Graham Robb 1999
Andrew Roberts FRSA 2001
Michèle Roberts 1999
Robin Robertson 2010
Jane Rogers 1994
Stephen Romer 2011
Michael Rosen 2006
Meg Rosoff 2013
Jacob Ross 2006
J. K. Rowling OBE 2002
Anthony Rudolf FEA 2005
Carol Rumens 1984
Sir Salman Rushdie 1983
Lawrence Sail 1998
Edward St Aubyn 2011
The Hon Giles St Aubyn LVO 1964
William St Clair FBA 1973
Fiona Sampson 2010
J. J. Scarisbrick MBE FRHistS 1969
Ann Schlee 1997
Michael Schmidt OBE 1993
*Patricia Schute 1991
The Rev Professor M.A. Screech FBA 1989
Roger Scruton FBA 2003
Peter Scupham 1990
Simon Sebag-Montefiore 2003
Elisa Segrave 2001
Richard Sennett 1999
Vikram Seth CBE 1994
Miranda Seymour FRSA 1996
Sir Peter Shaffer CBE 1978
Nicholas Shakespeare 1999
Kamila Shamsie 2011
Jo Shapcott 1999
Norman Sherry 1985
Elaine Showalter 2011
Posy Simmonds MBE 2004
Helen Simpson 1996
Andrew Sinclair FRSA 1972
Clive Sinclair 1983
Iain Sinclair 2009
Adam Sisman 2015
Robert Skidelsky (The Lord Skidelsky of Tilton FBA FRHistS) 1978
Gillian Slovo 2013
Ali Smith 2007
Godfrey Smith 1995
*John Saumarez Smith, Benson Medallist 1996
Zadie Smith 2002
Stephen Sondheim 2012
Ahdaf Soueif 2002
*Wole Soyinka, Benson Medallist 1983
Frances Spalding CBE 1984
Francis Spufford 2007
Hilary Spurling CBE 2005
John Spurling 2010
Tom Stacey 1977
Martin Stannard 1999
C. K. Stead ONZ CBE 1995
George Steiner FBA 1962
Rory Stewart OBE MP 2009
Stanley Stewart 2001
Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE C Lit 1972
Sir Roy Strong FSA 1999
Kate Summerscale 2010
*David Sutton, Benson Medallist 2012
Virginia Surtees 1978
John Sutherland 1990
Graham Swift 1984
George Szirtes 1982
D. J. Taylor 1997
Emma Tennant (The Hon Mrs Timothy Owens) 1982
Hugh Thomas (The Lord Thomas of Swynnerton FRHistS) 1997
Ian Thomson 2003
Rupert Thomson 2015
Colin Thubron CBE, President 1969
Ann Thwaite 1987
Anthony Thwaite OBE FSA 1978
Gillian Tindall 1983
Colm Tóibín 2007
Arnold Trevor Tolley 1998
(Count) Nikolai Tolstoy 1979
Claire Tomalin, Vice-President 1976
Barbara Trapido 2011
Jeremy Treglown 1989
Rose Tremain CBE 1983
William Trevor C Lit Hon KBE 1976
Lynne Truss 2004
Eva Tucker 2009
Jenny Uglow CBE FSA, Benson Medallist 1998
*HRH The Prince of Wales KG OM 2002
James Walvin OBE 2006
Dame Marina Warner FBA 1984
Val Warner 1998
Sarah Waters 2009
Daniel Weissbort 2008
Fay Weldon CBE 1986
Robert Wells 1994
Stanley Wells CBE 2013
Timberlake Wertenbaker 1999
Sir Arnold Wesker 1985
Sara Wheeler 1999
Hugh Whitemore 1998
Helen Wilcox FRSA FEA 1999
Hugo Williams 1988
Nigel Williams 1994
The Rt Revd The Lord Williams of Oystermouth PC FBA FLSW 2003
A. N. Wilson 1982
Frances Wilson 2008
Dame Jacqueline Wilson DBE 2005
Lewis Wolpert CBE FRS FMEdSci 1999
Charles Wood 1985
James Wood 2011
Michael Wood 1992
Gerard Woodward 2005
Pamela Woof 1999
Kit Wright 1997
Ann Wroe FRHistS 2007
Francis Wyndham 1999
Adam Zamoyski FSA 2006
Theodore Zeldin CBE FBA FRHistS 1999
Philip Ziegler CVO FRHistS 1972

The * before the name denotes an Honorary Fellow. The list is online at the RSL website.[8]


External links