Gwobr Esyllt Prize

Who was Esyllt and what is Gwobr Esyllt Prize?

Our friend Esyllt Harker was a beautiful and respected voice in traditional Welsh song and story.

Born in Birkenhead in 1947, youngest daughter of a father who was a minister and a mother who graduated in Welsh literature at Bangor University, Esyllt grew up speaking Welsh outside Wales, which perhaps accounted for her passion for her mother tongue.

After university at Edinburgh and a brief marriage, she lived in Greece for several years with her young daughter, Anna, before becoming an actor and performing in community theatre in London.

In 1981 she moved to her beloved Wales, cast as Branwen in a magnificent performance of The Mabinogi at Cardiff Castle. Many roles for S4C followed.

Singing was her first love.  Her beautiful, distinctive voice was equally at home with jazz andtraditional material and she sangwith many bands. She trained in voicework with Frankie Armstrong and Giles Petit, and taught voicework, singing, and Welsh song for Welsh learners.

After moving to North Wales in 1990, Esyllt began storytelling.  Being bilingual, she was in great demand and produced acclaimed pieces, both alone and in exciting collaborations.  As well as appearing several times at Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival and the National Eisteddfod, Esyllt represented Wales in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington.

Esyllt was always a seeker, in both her work and personal life, and she made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Despite her talents, Esyllt was humble, often doubting her work. She was a generous friend and devoted grandmother, who loved spending time with her grandchildren. She was passionate about Welsh myth and legend and the importance of caring for the Earth as a living being.  Her final work, ‘Tair: Daughters of Earth and Time’, commissioned by Beyond the Border in 2012, wove a sense of healing and of the emerging power of the feminine in the landscape into the stories of three historical and legendary Welsh princesses.

She was already ill while working on Tair, and soon became unable to continue performing.  Her aim then became to live and die as mindfully as possible.  The courageous way in which she lived with and somehow embraced the pain and indignity of bowel cancer was inspiring.

Her last two years were a powerful journey through illness, whichshe faced with courage, strength and wisdom.

She was a remarkable woman and a dear friend, and her legacy is in the memories of those who heard her songs and stories. 

Following Esyllt’s death in May 2014, Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival expressed its intention to create a bursary in recognition of her unique and vital role in storytelling in Wales. The bursary would support the development of an emerging storyteller, living or working in Wales.

The winner of the first bursary, named in Esyllt’s honour as the Gwobr Esyllt Prize, was announced at Beyond the Border in 2016.  Tamar Eluned Williams was the first holder, and performed a newly commissioned piece of storytelling at Beyond the Border in 2018.  At this performance, the winner of the second bursary, Siân Miriam, was announced. 

By 2018, Beyond the Border was no longer able to administer and fund raise for the bursary, so storyteller friends of Esyllt created Chwedl, a network of women storytellers in Wales, to raise the funds and award the second and subsequent bursaries.

Chwedl exists to support and nurture women storytellers in Wales, in memory of Esyllt Harker.  One of its main aims is to continue to fund raise for and manage Gwobr Esyllt Prize. It is still growing and developing as a network for women storytellers in Wales and runs ad hoc events, trainings and networking opportunities for women in Wales.