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Oxford novelist in longlist for world’s most prestigious award for young writers

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The international longlist for the world’s largest and most prestigious literary prize for young writers – the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize – has been announced, and it includes Oxford’s very own Mary Jean Chan for their novel Bright Fear.

With authors hailing from the UK, Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago, the US, Canada, and Hong Kong, this year’s international longlist is dominated by independent publishers – with nine indie titles. The longlist of 12 is as follows:

  1. A Spell of Good Things by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate Books) – a novel (Nigeria)
  2. Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking, Penguin Random House UK) – novel (UK/Ghana)
  3. The Glutton by A. K. Blakemore (Granta) – a novel (England, UK)
  4. Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan (Faber & Faber) – a poetry collection (Hong Kong)
  5. Penance by Eliza Clark (Faber & Faber) – a novel (England, UK)
  6. The Coiled Serpent by Camilla Grudova (Atlantic Books) – a short story collection (Canada)
  7. Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein (Bloomsbury Publishing UK/Ecco, HarperCollins US) – a novel (Trinidad and Tobago)
  8. Local Fires by Joshua Jones (Parthian Books) – a short story collection (Wales, UK)
  9. Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (Granta) – a novel (US)
  10. Close to Home by Michael Magee (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House UK) – a novel (Northern Ireland, UK)
  11. Open Up by Thomas Morris (Faber & Faber) – a short story collection (Wales, UK)
  12. Divisible by Itself and One by Kae Tempest (Picador, Pan Macmillan) – a poetry collection (England, UK)

Comprising of seven novels, three short story collections and two poetry collections, this year’s longlist spans continents and time periods to explore themes of adversity, identity, home and love.

Two writers have been longlisted for their poetry collections: Mary Jean Chan is in the running for the prize with the collection Bright Fear, which fearlessly explores themes of identity, multilingualism and postcolonial legacy, and Kae Tempest, a poet, writer, lyricist, performer and recording artist, is recognised for the powerful Divisible by Itself and One, which engages with the big questions and the emotional states in which we live and create.

Three writers previously in contention for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize return with appearances on this year’s longlist: Nigerian novelist Ayòbámi Adébáyò (previously longlisted in 2018 for her debut Stay With Me) and Caleb Azumah Nelson (shortlisted for 2022’s Open Water) both consider the delicate bonds of family in their books nominated for 2024.

In Adébáyò’s breathtaking novel A Spell of Good Things, Adebayo transports readers to modern-day Nigeria to tell the timeless tale of two families caught between the gaping divides in society, whilst British-Ghanaian author Nelson bridges the distance between Ghana and London, to tell a complex father-son story set across three summers in his intimate novel, Small Worlds.

US author Catherine Lacey (shortlisted in 2021 for Pew) is recognised this year for her genre-bending Biography of X, a roaring epic that plumbs the depths of grief, art and love and that introduces an unforgettable character who shows us the fallibility of the stories we craft for ourselves.

Elsewhere, writers grapple with the ghosts of the past and try to make sense of violent moments in history. Caribbean novelist Kevin Jared Hosein brings to life 1940s colonial central Trinidad in his mesmerising novel Hungry Ghosts, where class divisions between the ‘haves and have-nots’ culminate in a series of devastating moments for two families, and British writer A.K. Blakemore is longlisted for her exhilarating novel The Glutton, in which she travels to 18th-Century France to explore the French Revolution through the eyes of a real-life peasant turned freakshow attraction, driven to desperate acts of survival.

The final two novels on the list explore small-town life: in Penance, Newcastle-born Eliza Clark blurs the lines between fact and fiction to unnerving effect, as the Granta Best Young British Novelist 2023 tells the chilling story of a murder among teenagers, set on the eve of the historic Brexit vote; Belfast’s Michael Magee – one of only two debuts on this year’s list – paints an alienating picture of post-conflict Belfast in Close to Home, where the fateful actions of one man animate this taut story considering masculinity, class and precarity.

Of the three short story collections in contention for this year’s prize, two are written by Welsh writers. Joshua Jones – the second debut on the longlist – is recognised for Local Fires, inspired by real people and real events that took place in his hometown of Llanelli, Wales, and Thomas Morris – also a Granta Best Young British Novelist 2023 – has been celebrated for Open Up, five achingly tender, innovative and dazzling stories of (dis)connection.

The final short story collection on the list is The Coiled Serpent by Canadian-born, Edinburgh-based Camilla Grudova – the third Granta Best Young British Novelist 2023 to be nominated – who, through a series of surreal tales, exposes the absurdity behind contemporary ideas of work, Britishness and art-making.

The longlisted titles will now be whittled down to a six-strong shortlist by an impressive panel of judges chaired by the acclaimed author of 23 books – including the forthcoming Never Never Land – and co-founder and co-director of the famed Jaipur Literature Festival, Namita Gokhale.

Namita will be joined by Jon Gower – prize-winning Welsh author and lecturer in Creative Writing at Swansea University; Seán Hewitt – winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2022 and Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin; Julia Wheeler – former BBC Gulf Correspondent and author of Telling Tales: An Oral History of Dubai; and Tice Cin – an interdisciplinary artist and author of Keeping the House, longlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize in 2022.

Worth £20,000, this global accolade recognises exceptional literary talent aged 39 or under, celebrating 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. The prize invokes his memory to support the writers of today, nurture the talents of tomorrow, and celebrate international literary excellence.

Last year’s prize was awarded to Arinze Ifeakandu for his debut short story collection God’s Children Are Little Broken Things (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

Di Speirs, Chair of the 2023 Judges, said: ‘We were unanimous in our praise and admiration for this exhilarating collection of nine stories. Arinze Ifeakandu’s debut shines with maturity, the writing bold, refreshing and exacting but never afraid to linger and to allow characters and situations to develop and change, so that the longer stories are almost novels in themselves.

“A kaleidoscopic reflection of queer life and love in Nigeria, the constraints, the dangers and the humanity, this is a collection that we wanted to press into many readers’ hands around the world and which left us excited to know what Arinze Ifeakandu will write next.’

Previous winners also include Patricia Lockwood, Max Porter, Raven Leilani, Bryan Washington, Guy Gunaratne, and Kayo Chingonyi.

The Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist will be announced on Thursday, 21 March, followed by the Winner’s Ceremony held in Swansea on Thursday, 16 May, following International Dylan Thomas Day on Tuesday, 14 May.


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