Swansea, 21 January 2021: The international longlist for one of the world’s largest literary prizes for young writers – the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize – is announced today, featuring a record number of nine debut writers.
The list comprises nine novels, two poetry collections and one short story collection, and at a time when travel has been restricted and contact with loved ones limited, these extraordinary titles – eight of which are by female writers – transport the reader from Seoul to Hong Kong, Syria to Kilburn, Montana to Dublin, in a powerful exploration of homeland, identity, and relationships:
– Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat (Picador) – short story collection (Syria/USA)
– Antiemetic for Homesickness by Romalyn Ante (Chatto & Windus) – poetry collection (Philippines)
– If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Viking, Penguin Random House UK) – novel (USA/Korea)
– Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis (HarperCollins, 4th Estate) – novel (USA)
– Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) – novel (Ireland)
– The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Faber) – novel (Nigeria/USA)
– Rendang by Will Harris (Granta) – poetry collection (UK)
– The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes (Oneworld) – novel (Ireland)
– Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (HarperCollins, 4th Estate) – novel (Poland/UK)
– Pew by Catherine Lacey (Granta) – novel (USA)
– Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Picador) – novel (USA)
– My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (HarperCollins, 4th Estate) – novel (USA)
The nine new voices on the list includes four of the most dynamic female novelists writing today: Naoise Dolan and her deadpan debut Exciting Times, Frances Cha’svivid dissection of consumerism in If I Had Your Face, Kate Elizabeth Russell and her unflinching exploration of sexual consent in My Dark Vanessa, and Raven Leilani’s acerbic novel of the moment, Luster.The line-up of first novels is completed by Gabriel Krauze and his brutal novel based on a personal experience of London gang violence, Who They Was, and Kingdomtide, the suspenseful story of survival from Rye Curtis.
There are two debut poets up for the £20,000 Prize – Philippines born NHS nurse Romalyn Ante and her expansive Antiemetic for Homesickness, and Will Harris, who draws on his Anglo-Indonesian heritage to create a sharp exploration of cultural identity in Rendang – and one short story collection: the first title from Syria born Dima Alzayat, whose Alligator and Other Stories captures how it feels to be ‘other’ through nine powerful tales.
The three remaining titles in contention are The Death of Vivek Oji, the second novel from Igbo and Tamil, non-binary author Akwaeke Emezi, the foreboding Pew by Catherine Lacey, and Caoilinn Hughes’ powerful The Wild Laughter, set during the wake of the Celtic Tiger devastation.
Worth £20,000, it is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes as well as one of the world’s largest literary prizes for young writers. Awarded for the best published literary work in the English language written by an author aged 39 or under, the Prize celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama.
The longlist will now be whittled to a six strong shortlist by a judging panel chaired by award-winning writer, publisher and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Namita Gokhale alongside founder and director of the Bradford Literature Festival, Syima Aslam, poet Stephen Sexton, writer Joshua Ferris and novelist and academic Francesca Rhydderch.
On receiving the 2020 award for his debut short story collection, LOT, the twenty-seven-year-old American writer Bryan Washington said: “It’s a gift whenever an audience gives you the time of day for a story, whatever that is, let alone to be acknowledged for your work on such a massive platform. And it’s an honour to tell stories about the communities that are dear to me, and the communities that I live among – marginalized communities, communities of colour, and queer communities of colour, specifically… I’m very grateful.”
The longlist announcement is followed by a special online event at the prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival in February 2021.
The shortlist announcement will take place on 25 March, with the winner revealed on 13 May, the eve of International Dylan Thomas Day.
About the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize
Key Dates for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2021
– Shortlist Announcement: 25 March 2021
– Winner Announcement: 13 May 2021
Launched in 2006, the annual Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for young writers, aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide. It celebrates and nurtures international literary excellence. Worth £20,000, it is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes as well as one of the world’s largest literary prizes for young writers. Awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under, the Prize celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama. The prize is named after the Swansea-born writer, Dylan Thomas, and celebrates his 39 years of creativity and productivity. One of the most influential, internationally-renowned writers of the mid-twentieth century, the prize invokes his memory to support the writers of today and nurture the talents of tomorrow.
LONGLIST TITLE & AUTHOR INFORMATION: Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2021
Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat (Picador)
In Alligator and Other Stories, Dima Alzayat captures luminously how it feels to be ‘other’: as a Syrian, as an Arab, as an immigrant, as a woman. Each story of the nine stories is a snapshot of those moments when unusual circumstances suddenly distinguish us from our neighbours, when our difference is thrown into relief. Here are ‘dangerous’ women transgressing, missing children in 1970s New York, a family who were once Syrian but have now lost their name, and a young woman about to discover the hollowness of the American dream. At its centre lies ‘Alligator’: a remarkable compilation of real and invented sources, which rescues from history the story of a Syrian American couple who were murdered at the hands of the state. Alzayat explores experiences that are startling and real, delivering an emotional punch that lingers long after reading.
Dima Alzayat was born in Damascus, Syria, grew up in San Jose, California, and now lives in Manchester. She was the winner of the 2019 ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, a 2018 Northern Writers’ Award, the 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize and the 2015 Bernice Slote Award. She was runner-up in the 2018 Deborah Rogers Award and the 2018 Zoetrope: All-Story Competition, and was Highly Commended in the 2013 Bridport Prize.
Antiemetic for Homesickness by Romalyn Ante (Chatto & Windus)
The poems in Romalyn Ante’s luminous debut build a bridge between two worlds: journeying from the country ‘na nagluwal sa ‘yo’ – that gave birth to you – to a new life in the United Kingdom. Steeped in the richness of Filipino folklore, and studded with Tagalog, these poems speak of the ache of assimilation and the complexities of belonging, telling the stories of generations of migrants who find exile through employment – through the voices of the mothers who leave and the children who are left behind. With dazzling formal dexterity and emotional resonance, this expansive debut offers a unique perspective on family, colonialism, homeland and heritage: from the countries we carry with us, to the places we call home.
Romalyn Ante was born in 1989 in Lipa Batangas, Philippines. She was 16 years old when her mother – a nurse in the NHS – brought the family to the UK. Her debut pamphlet, Rice & Rain, won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet 2018. She is the winner of the Poetry London Clore Prize 2018; joint-winner of the Manchester Poetry Prize 2017, and the recipient of the Platinum Poetry in Creative Future Literary Awards 2017. She currently lives in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, where she works as a registered nurse and psychotherapist.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Viking, Penguin Random House UK)
If I Had Your Face plunges us into the mesmerizing world of contemporary Seoul – a place where extreme plastic surgery is as routine as getting a haircut, where women compete for spots in secret ‘room salons’ to entertain wealthy businessmen after hours, where K-Pop stars are the object of all-consuming obsession, and ruthless social hierarchies dictate your every move. Navigating this hyper-competitive city are four young women balancing on the razor-edge of survival: Kyuri, an exquisitely beautiful woman whose hard-won status at an exclusive ‘room salon’ is threatened by an impulsive mistake with a client; her flatmate Miho, an orphan who wins a scholarship to a prestigious art school in New York, where her life becomes tragically enmeshed with the super-wealthy offspring of the Korean elite; Wonna, their neighbour, pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they will afford to raise in a fiercely competitive economy; and Ara, a hair stylist living down the hall, whose infatuation with a fresh-faced K-Pop star drives her to violent extremes.
Frances Cha is a former travel and culture digital editor for CNN in Seoul. She grew up in the United States, Hong Kong and South Korea. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Columbia University MFA writing programme, she has written for The Atlantic, The Believer, Yonhap News and other publications, and has lectured at Columbia University, Ewha University, Seoul National University and Yonsei University. She lives in Brooklyn. If I Had Your Face is her first novel.
Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
The lives of two women—the sole survivor of an airplane crash and the troubled park ranger who leads the rescue mission to find her —intersect in a gripping debut novel of hope and resilience, second thoughts and second chances I no longer pass judgment on any man nor woman. People are people, and I do not believe there is much more to be said on the matter. Twenty years ago I might have been of a different mind about that, but I was a different Cloris Waldrip back then. I might have gone on being that same Cloris Waldrip, the one I had been for seventy-two years, had I not fallen out of the sky in that little airplane on Sunday, August 31, 1986. It does amaze that a woman can reach the tail end of her life and find that she hardly knows herself at all. When seventy-two-year-old Cloris Waldrip finds herself lost and alone in the unforgiving wilderness of the Montana mountains, with only a bible, a sturdy pair of boots, and a couple of candies to keep her alive, it seems her chances of ever getting home to Texas are slim. Debra Lewis, a park ranger, who is drinking her way out of the aftermath of a messy divorce is the only one who believes the old lady may still be alive. Galvanized by her newfound mission to find her, Lewis leads a motley group of rescuers to follow the trail of clues that Cloris has left behind. But as days stretch into weeks, and Cloris’s situation grows ever more precarious, help arrives from the unlikeliest of places, causing her to question all the certainties on which she has built her life. Suspenseful, wry and gorgeously written Kingdomtide is the inspiring account of two unforgettable characters, whose heroism reminds us that survival is only the beginning.
Rye Curtis is 30 years old, originally from Amarillo, Texas but now living in Brooklyn.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves: – a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children; – Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room; – Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks; – money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections. Exciting times ensue.
Naoise Dolan is an Irish writer born in Dublin. She studied English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University. EXCITING TIMES is her first novel, an excerpt from which was published in The Stinging Fly.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Faber)
They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died. One afternoon, a mother opens her front door to find the length of her son’s body stretched out on the veranda, swaddled in akwete material, his head on her welcome mat. The Death of Vivek Oji transports us to the day of Vivek’s birth, the day his grandmother Ahunna died. It is the story of an over protective mother and a distant father, and the heart-wrenching tale of one family’s struggle to understand their child, just as Vivek learns to recognize himself. Teeming with unforgettable characters whose lives have been shaped by Vivek’s gentle and enigmatic spirit, it shares with us a Nigerian childhood that challenges expectations. This novel, and its celebration of the innocence and optimism of youth, will touch all those who embrace it.
Akwaeke Emezi is a writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. A 2018 National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree, their debut novel Freshwater was longlisted for both the Women’s Prize for Fiction and for the Wellcome Book Prize. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, among others. Their first novel for young adults, Pet, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Emezi’s most recent novel, The Death of Vivek Oji was a New York Times bestseller on publication in 2020. Emezi’s writing has appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, BuzzFeed and The Cut, among other publications.
Rendang by Will Harris (Granta)
In RENDANG, Will Harris complicates and experiments with the lyric in a way that urges it forward. With an unflinching yet generous eye, RENDANG is a collection that engages equally with the pain and promise of self-perception. Drawing on his Anglo-Indonesian heritage, Harris shows us new ways to think about the contradictions of identity and cultural memory. He creates companions that speak to us in multiple languages; they sit next to us on the bus, walk with us through the crowd and talk to us while we’re chopping shallots. They deftly ask us to consider how and what we look at, as well as what we don’t look at and why. Playing eruditely with and querying structures of narrative, with his use of the long poem, images, ekphrasis, and ruptured forms, RENDANG is a startling new take on the self, and how an identity is constructed. It is intellectual and accessible, moving and experimental, and combines a linguistic innovation with a deep emotional rooting.
Will Harris is a poet and critic from London. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Mixed-Race Superman and All This Is Implied, and winner of the LRB Bookshop Poetry Pick for best pamphlet. He received a Poetry Fellowship from the Arts Foundation in 2019 and was shortlisted for the 2017 Fitzcarraldo Essay Prize and the 2018 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem for ‘SAY’ (Poetry Review). He has published with the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Granta, the Poetry Review, and the White Review, among others.
The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes (Oneworld)
It’s 2008, and the Celtic Tiger has left devastation in its wake. Brothers Hart and Cormac Black are waking up to a very different Ireland – one that widens the chasm between them and brings their beloved father to his knees. Facing a devastating choice that risks their livelihood, if not their lives, their biggest danger comes when there is nothing to lose. A sharp snapshot of a family and a nation suddenly unmoored, this epic-in-miniature explores cowardice and sacrifice, faith rewarded and abandoned, the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we resist. Hilarious, poignant and utterly fresh, The Wild Laughter cements Caoilinn Hughes’ position as one of Ireland’s most audacious, nuanced and insightful young writers.
Caoilinn Hughes is an Irish writer. Her first novel Orchid & the Wasp (Oneworld 2018) won the Collyer Bristow Prize 2019 and was shortlisted for the Hearst Big Book Awards, the Butler Literary Award and was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and the International DUBLIN Literary Award. Her poetry collection, Gathering Evidence (Carcanet 2014) won the Irish Times Strong/Shine Award. Her short fiction won The Moth Short Story Prize 2018, an O.Henry Prize in 2019 and the Irish Book Awards’ Story of the Year 2020. Her second novel, The Wild Laughter (2020) was shortlisted for the An Post Irish Book Awards’ Novel of the Year, the RTÉ Radio 1 Listener’s Choice Award 2020. She is the 2021 Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
This life is like being in an ocean. Some people keep swimming towards the bottom. Some people touch the bottom with one foot, or even both, and then push themselves off it to get back up to the top, where you can breathe. Others get to the bottom and decide they want to stay there. I don’t want to get to the bottom because I’m already drowning. This is a story of a London you won’t find in any guidebooks. This is a story about what it’s like to exist in the moment, about boys too eager to become men, growing up in the hidden war zones of big cities – and the girls trying to make it their own way. This is a story of reputations made and lost, of violence and vengeance – and never counting the cost. This is a story of concrete towers and blank eyed windows, of endless nights in police stations and prison cells, of brotherhood and betrayal. This is about the boredom, the rush, the despair, the fear and the hope. This is about what’s left behind.
Gabriel Krauze grew up in London in a Polish family and was drawn to a life of crime and gangs from an early age. Now in his thirties he has left that world behind and is recapturing his life through writing. He has published short stories in Vice. Who They Was is his first novel.
Pew by Catherine Lacey (Granta)
Fleeing a past they can no longer remember, Pew wakes on a church bench, surrounded by curious strangers. Pew doesn’t have a name, they’ve forgotten it. Pew doesn’t know if they’re a girl or a boy, a child or an almost-adult. Is Pew an orphan, or something worse? And what terrible trouble are they running from? Pew won’t speak, but the men and women of this small, god-fearing town are full of questions. As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence.
Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels THE ANSWERS and NOBODY IS EVER MISSING, and the collection of stories CERTAIN AMERICAN STATES. She has won a Whiting Award, was a finalist for the NYPL’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch & German. She was born in Mississippi and is based in Chicago.
Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Picador)
Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family. Razor sharp, provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now.
Raven Leilani’s work has been published in Granta, The Yale Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, The Cut, and New England Review, among other publications. She received her MFA from NYU and was an Axinn Foundation Writer-in-Residence. Luster is her first novel.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student. Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that. Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many. Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues of our age.
Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.
JUDGING PANEL INFORMATION: Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2021
Namita Gokhale (Chair of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2021)
Namita Gokhale is an award-winning writer, publisher and festival director. She is the author of twenty books, including ten works of fiction. Her latest novel Jaipur Journals, published in 2020, is set against the backdrop of the vibrant Jaipur Literature Festival, of which Gokhale is a co-founder-director. Jaipur Journals will be published in the UK in Spring 2021 by HopeRoad Publishing. She is director of Yatra Books, a publishing house specialised in translation. Gokhale was conferred the Centenary National Award for Literature by the Assam Sahitya Sabha in Guwahati in 2017. Her novel Things to Leave Behind has won the Sushila Devi Literature Award in January 2019 and Valley of Words Book Award for the Best English Fiction. Follow her on Twitter @NamitaGokhale_
Syima Aslam is the founder and Director of the Bradford Literature Festival (BLF), which she established in 2014. A 10-day literary and cultural celebration, BLF welcomes more than 70,000 visitors to Bradford annually and is celebrated as the most socio-economically and ethnically diverse literary festival in the UK. Under Syima’s directorship, BLF has made a significant impact on the country’s literary landscape, hailed as ‘one of the most innovative and inspirational festivals in the UK’, bringing together literature from all genres, promoting intercultural fluency, providing a platform for marginalised voices, and reflecting the changing face of contemporary Britain through a programme which celebrates diversity, empathy and artistic excellence.
Stephen Sexton’s first book, If All the World and Love Were Young was the winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2019 and the Shine / Strong Award for Best First Collection. He is the 2020 recipient of the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was the winner of the National Poetry Competition in 2016 and the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award in 2018. He teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University, Belfast. Follow him on Twitter @ssexton02
Joshua Ferris is the bestselling author of three novels and a collection of short stories, The Dinner Party. He has been a finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and was named one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” writers in 2010. He lives in New York.
Francesca Rhydderch is a novelist and academic. In 2014, her debut novel The Rice Paper Diaries was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines and broadcast on Radio 4 and Radio Wales. She was the recipient of a BBC/Tŷ Newydd bursary in 2010, and in 2014 she was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. She subsequently co-edited Seren Books’ most recent fiction anthology New Welsh Short Stories with Penny Thomas, and has been Associate Professor in Creative Writing at Swansea University since 2015.