The international longlist for one of the world’s largest literary prizes for young writers – the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize – is announced today, Thursday 26 January. With authors hailing from the UK, Ireland, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Lebanon and Australia, this year’s longlist of 12 features an even split of debut and established names, with African diaspora and female voices dominating the longlist.
Through themes of coming of age, adversity and love, this year’s longlist comprises eight novels, two poetry collections and two short story collections:
- Limberlost by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic Books) – novel (Australia)
- Seven Steeples by Sara Baume (Tramp Press) – novel (Ireland)
- God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson) – short story collection (Nigeria)
- Maps Of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer (Picador, Pan Macmillan) – novel (UK)
- Phantom Gang by Ciarán O’Rourke (The Irish Pages Press) – poetry collection (Ireland)
- Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor (Oneworld) – novel (Kenya)
- Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu (Canongate Books) – novel (UK)
- I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel (Rough Trade Books) – novel (UK)
- Send Nudes by Saba Sams (Bloomsbury Publishing) – short story collection (UK)
- Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire (Chatto & Windus, Vintage) – poetry collection (Somalia-UK)
- Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens (Picador, Pan Macmillan) – novel (UK)
- No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib (Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin) – novel (Lebanon)
African diaspora writers are some of the new authors to watch out for on this year’s longlist. Somali-British writer Warsan Shire, the celebrated poet behind Beyoncé’s features Lemonade and Black is King, pays homage to Black women and teenage girls in Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, while Kenyan born, German based Okwiri Oduor uses magical realism to brilliant effect in Things They Lost. Nigeria’s Arinze Ifeakandu explores what it means to be a queer male in his home country in the remarkable God’s Children Are Little Broken Things, and Derek Owusu considers the generational impact of a mother’s journey from Ghana to the UK in his second novel, Losing the Plot.
Totalling 8 of the 12 nominations, female voices dominate this year’s longlist including up-and-coming British literary talent exploring how it feels to come of age in a hostile environment: Saba Sam’s tender and witty Send Nudes highlights the confusing double standards facing women today; Sheena Patel offers a piercing critique of social media and heteronormative relationships in I’m a Fan; sexual politics are skewered by the teenage female protagonist of Briefly, A Delicious Life – Nell Stevens’ foray into fiction— while Maddie Mortimer’s Desmond Elliott prize-winning Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies offers a darkly funny depiction of a mother-daughter relationship.
Elsewhere on the longlist, books consider national identity and the search for home. Australian Robbie Arnott’s spellbinding coming-of-age novel, Limberlost, transports readers to rural Tasmania whilst the notion of home takes a troubling turn in No Land to Light On, the heart wrenching second novel from Lebanon born Yara Zgheib, who portrays a young Syrian couple torn apart by a hostile travel ban. Turning to Ireland, Ciarán O’Rourke’s daring poetry collection Phantom Gang considers global inequalities from the context of his homeland, and Sara Baume depicts a young couple’s attempts to disappear into the Irish countryside in the stunning Seven Steeples.
The longlisted titles will now be whittled down to a six strong shortlist by an impressive panel of judges chaired by esteemed British producer and Books Editor for BBC Radio Di Speirs, alongside prize-winning Welsh author and lecturer in English at Swansea University, Jon Gower, American bestselling author and 2012 winner of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize winner Maggie Shipstead, British poet and the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Women of Colour, Rachel Long, and Nepali-Indian author and 2013 Prize shortlistee Prajwal Parajuly.
Worth £20,000, the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes as well as the world’s largest literary prize 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.
American poet, novelist and essayist Patricia Lockwood received the award in 2022 for her inventive debut novel, No One Is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Publishing). Chair of the 2022 Judges, Namita Gokhale, said: “No One Is Talking About This is a vital reflection on online culture today. A deeply timely winner, Patricia Lockwood is the voice of a generation of new writers who grew up under the constant pressures of real-time news and social media.”
The Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist will be announced on Thursday 23 March followed by the Winner’s Ceremony held in Swansea on Thursday 11 May, prior to International Dylan Thomas Day on Sunday 14 May.
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 INFORMATION: Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2023
Limberlost by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic Books)
Robbie Arnott is the author of the novel Flames, which won the Margaret Scott Prize, was short-listed for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize for Fiction and was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and The Rain Heron, which won the Age Book of the Year 2021 and was shortlisted for Miles Franklin Literary Award. He has been named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist. He lives in Tasmania.
Seven Steeples by Sara Baume (Tramp Press)
Sara Baume is the author of four books. Her novels have been widely translated and won awards such as the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Rooney Prize for Literature and the E.M. Forster Award. In 2020 her non-fiction debut, handiwork, was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize and in 2022 her third novel, Seven Steeples, was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. She is based in West Cork where she works also as a visual artist.
God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Arinze Ifeakandu was born in Kano, Nigeria. An AKO Caine Prize for African Writing finalist and A Public Space Writing Fellow, he is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is pursuing his PhD at Florida State University. His work has appeared in A Public Space, One Story, and Guernica. God’s Children Are Little Broken Things is his first book.
Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
Maddie Mortimer was born in London in 1996. She received her BA in English Literature from the University of Bristol. Her writing has featured in The Times and her short films have screened at festivals around the world. She is co-writing a TV series currently in development with Various Artists Ltd. In 2019 she completed the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is her first novel.
Phantom Gang by Ciarán O’Rourke (The Irish Pages Press)
Ciarán O’Rourke was born in 1991 and took a degree in English and History at Trinity College, Dublin. He received a Masters in English and American Studies from Oxford in 2014, as well as a doctorate on William Carlos Williams at his alma mater in Dublin in 2019. His first collection, The Buried Breath, was published by The Irish Pages Press in 2018 and highly commended by the Forward Foundation for Poetry the following year. His second collection, Phantom Gang, was published in 2022 by The Irish Pages Press. He currently lives in Dublin.
Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor (Oneworld)
Okwiri Oduor was born in Nairobi, Kenya. At the age of 25, she won the Caine Prize for African Writing 2014 for her story ‘My Father’s Head’. Later that year, she was named on the Hay Festival’s Africa39 list of 39 African writers under 40 who would define trends in African literature. She has been a MacDowell Colony fellow, and she received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has a story forthcoming in Granta, and Things They Lost is her debut novel. She lives in Germany.
Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu (Canongate Books)
Derek Owusu is a writer, poet and podcaster from North London. In 2016 he joined the multi-award-winning literature podcast Mostly Lit. He also produced the well-received This Is Spoke podcast for Penguin Random House and Freemantle Media. His essay on Black men and insecurities was the second-most-read article on Media Diversified in 2018, and his essay on language was picked up by BBC Newsnight to be turned into a short documentary. In 2019 Derek collated, edited and contributed to Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space. His debut novel, That Reminds Me, won the Desmond Elliott Prize.
I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel (Rough Trade Books)
Sheena Patel is a writer and assistant director for film and TV who was born and raised in North West London. She is part of the 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE collective, has been published in 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE (Rough Trade Books) and a poetry collection of the same name (FEM Press). In 2022 she was chosen as one of the Observer’s Top 10 best debut novelists. I’m a Fan is her first book.
Send Nudes by Saba Sams (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Saba Sams has been published in the Stinging Fly, Granta and Five Dials, among others. She was shortlisted for the White Review Short Story Prize in 2019. Send Nudes won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2022, and ‘Blue 4eva’ won the BBC National Short Story Award 2022. She is from Brighton.
Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire (Chatto & Windus)
Warsan Shire is a Somali British writer and poet born in Nairobi and raised in London. She has written two chapbooks, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and Her Blue Body. She was awarded the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize and served as the first Young Poet Laureate of London. She is the youngest member of the Royal Society of Literature and is included in the Penguin Modern Poets series. Shire wrote the poetry for the Peabody Award–winning visual album Lemonade and the Disney film Black Is King in collaboration with Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. She also wrote the short film Brave Girl Rising, highlighting the voices and faces of Somali girls in Africa’s largest refugee camp. Shire lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head is her full-length debut poetry collection and was shortlisted for the Forward Felix Dennis Prize 2022.
Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
Nell Stevens writes memoir and fiction. She is the author of Bleaker House and Mrs Gaskell and Me, which won the 2019 Somerset Maugham Award. She was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC National Short Story Award. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Vogue, The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Granta, and elsewhere. Nell is an Assistant Professor in creative writing at the University of Warwick. Briefly, A Delicious Life is her debut novel.
No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib (Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin)
Yara Zgheib is the author of the critically acclaimed The Girls at 17 Swann Street, which was a People pick for best new books and received rave reviews from The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Bustle. She is a Fulbright scholar with a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University and a PhD in international affairs in diplomacy from Centre d’ Études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris.
ABOUT THE JUDGES
Di Speirs is the Books Editor at BBC Audio. She produced the first ever Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 and has directed scores of Book at Bedtimes, dramatisations and short stories. Now the Editor of the London books team she’s responsible for BBC Readings and Audiobooks, Radio 4’s Open Book and BookClub, and World Book Club and World Book Cafe on the World Service. A long-time advocate of the formidable power of the short story, she has been integral to the BBC National Short Story Award since it began in 2005, is the returning judge on the panel and is also behind the BBC Young Writers’ Award. She has edited three story collections for the BBC. An Honorary member of the RSL, she is a regular literary judge and has been a nominator twice for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative (Literature). She is a board member of the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust and is on Lancaster University’s Institute for Social Futures Advisory Board.
Jon Gower is a former BBC Wales arts and media correspondent who has over 40 books to his name. These include The Story of Wales, which accompanied a landmark TV series, the travelogue An Island Called Smith and Y Storïwr which won the Wales Book of the Year. His latest book is The Turning Tide: A Biography of the Irish Sea. Jon is currently writing a Welsh language historical novel about the polar explorer Edgar Evans, a collection of essays about mountains as well as a volume about the American footballer Raymond Chester, due out in 2024. He lives in Cardiff.
Maggie Shipstead is the New York Times-bestselling author of three novels and a short story collection. Her novel Great Circle was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She is a graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles.
Rachel Long’s debut collection, My Darling from the Lions (Picador 2020/Tin House 2021) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, The Costa Book Award, The Rathbones Folio Prize, the Jhalak Prize, and The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. The US edition of My Darling from the Lions was a New York Times Book Review, and named one of the 100 must-read books of 2021 by TIME.
Prajwal Parajuly, the son of a Nepali mother and a Nepali-Indian father, is the author of The Gurkha’s Daughter: Stories and Land Where I Flee, a novel. His works have been shortlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize and the Mogford Prize in the UK, the Emile Guimet Prize and the First Novel Prize in France and longlisted for the Story Prize in the US. He lives in Paris and teaches at Sciences Po.