Caleb Azumah Nelson wins Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2024 for ‘anthemic’ novel Small Words

Caleb Azumah Nelson has been announced as the 2024 winner of the world’s largest and most prestigious literary prize for young writers – the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize – for his novel Small Worlds (Viking, Penguin Random House UK).

Described as ‘anthemic’ by this year’s judging panel, Small Worlds tells an intimate father-son story set between South London and Ghana over the course of three summers. The win cements the thirty-year-old British-Ghanaian author as a rising star in literary fiction, following his acclaimed debut, Open Water, which was shortlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize in 2022.

Caleb Azumah Nelson was awarded the £20,000 global accolade – celebrating exceptional literary talent aged 39 or under – at a ceremony held in Swansea on Thursday 16 May.

The prize is named after the Swansea-born writer Dylan Thomas and celebrates his 39 years of creativity and productivity. The prize invokes his memory to support the writers of today, nurture the talent of tomorrow, and celebrate international literary excellence in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama.

Namita Gokhale, Chair of 2024 Judges, said on behalf of the panel:

“Amid a hugely impressive shortlist that showcased a breadth of genres and exciting new voices, we were unanimous in our praise for this viscerally moving, heartfelt novel. There is a musicality to Caleb Azumah Nelson’s writing, in a book equally designed to be read quietly and listened aloud. Images and ideas recur to beautiful effect, lending the symphonic nature of Small Worlds an anthemic quality, where the reader feels swept away by deeply realised characters as they traverse between Ghana and South London, trying to find some semblance of a home. Emotionally challenging yet exceptionally healing, Small Worlds feels like a balm: honest as it is about the riches and the immense difficulties of living of and away from your culture.”

The other titles shortlisted for the 2024 Prize were A Spell of Good Things by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate Books), The Glutton by A. K. Blakemore (Granta), Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan (Faber & Faber), Local Fires by Joshua Jones (Parthian Books) and Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (Granta).

The 2024 Prize was judged by writer and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Namita Gokhale (Chair), alongside author and lecturer in Creative Writing at Swansea University, Jon Gower, winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2022 and Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, Seán Hewitt, former BBC Gulf Correspondent and author of Telling Tales: An Oral History of Dubai, Julia Wheeler, and interdisciplinary artist and author of Keeping the House, Tice Cin.

Caleb Azumah Nelson joins an illustrious list of writers to have been awarded this prestigious Prize, including Raven Leilani, Bryan Washington, Guy Gunaratne, Kayo Chingonyi, Fiona McFarlane, Max Porter and last year’s winner Arinze Ifeakandu.