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Student wins Orwell Prize for account of Muslim life

25th Aug 2017
Student wins Orwell Prize for account of Muslim life

Yasmin O’Mahoney with her father Kieran, brother Zak and mother Shahina (Photo:  Lewes Old Grammar School)

Nadine Osman

A talented Year 10 pupil from Lewes Old Grammar School won the George Orwell Literary Prize for her passionate account about modern-day life as a British Muslim.

15-year-old Yasmin O’Mahoney competed against 178 writers aged 13-18 to win the most prestigious national prize for political writing on June 27 for her essay ‘Different?’ at Pembroke College, University of Oxford.

The final round was judged by award-winning writer, journalist and Orwell Fellow, Nicci Gerrard, while George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, presented Yasmin with her award on the day.

In a statement to The Muslim News Yasmin said: “I was up against some really tough competition so it was a great surprise to win. Hearing an Oxford graduate read the last three paragraphs of my essay was an unforgettable experience, and I was honoured when a Muslim family came up to me afterwards and said how deeply they’d been touched. I feel even more motivated to keep writing!”

‘Different?’ was written in response to the competition’s brief, which asked entrants to write about the theme of ‘identity’.

The essay chronicles her experience growing up in a multicultural family, and includes a vivid depiction of a family dinner where the physical differences between her Irish father and Pakistani mother are thrown into relief.

The winning entry also records how Yasmin came to terms with her Asian appearance while living in a predominantly white area, and discusses the misrepresentation of Muslims in the media by contrasting stereotypes of Islam that she encounters in her daily life with firsthand memories of her grandparents.

Kieran O’Mahoney, Yasmin’s father, said: “We are so proud of Yasmin. She’s an avid reader – she has wall-to-wall shelves full of everything from Harry Potter to Shakespeare – and she’s always writing, so having heard about the competition from her uncle, she was very keen to enter the Prize. She wrote from the heart, and I think her passion for the subject is what makes the composition so powerful and beautiful. She has never been afraid to speak her mind and we learn from her on a daily basis”.

Her head teacher Robert Blewitt said: “Yasmin’s success serves as inspiration for other pupils and her writing offers a valuable insight into the diversity of culture in modern Britain. Her style is mature way beyond her years and we have high hopes for her future career.”

 

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