As part of the RSL’s bicentenary celebrations, a newly-commissioned Benson Medal has been unveiled, with Boyd Tonkin being announced as the 2020 recipient.
Boyd Tonkin is an editor and critic who currently writes on literature and other arts for international media including The Economist, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and The Spectator. As Literary Editor and then Senior Writer of The Independent, he re-founded The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, with Arts Council England, and judged it 2001-2015. He said ‘To be awarded the Benson Medal is the most tremendous honour, because when I look back at my predecessors in recent years, they really are the publishers, the editors, the critics, who have done most to shape my understanding of literature from around the world. To join that company of giants is the most enormous privilege.’
RSL Chair, Lisa Appignanesi said ‘Boyd Tonkin has been one of the key people in the shaping of literature in the UK. He worked first as a lecturer and then left academic life to become a literary journalist, serving as one of the very best books editors in the UK during his tenure at The Independent (1996-2013). His own weekly column introduced a host of ideas about literature both here and abroad. His breadth of knowledge and perception was also visible in his criticism for other papers and magazines.’
The new design, by artist Linda Crook incorporates elements representing the books, the reader, the writer and the passage of time. Linda said, ‘I wanted to give a modern look to the medal but also depict the 200 years visually. It was a combination of the book, the contributor, and the reader. I felt that the idea of putting people and books together on a medal would be a good thing. The quill also depicts the idea of the past, showing the passage of time. The face in profile, turning into the book, represents the human experience.’
The Benson Medal was founded in 1916 by A.C. Benson, scholar, author and RSL Fellow, ‘in respect of meritorious works in poetry, fiction, history and belles lettres’. The Medal is awarded to those who have made outstanding an contribution to literature.