Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist 2020

By April 17, 2020Literary Awards, News

This year’s Dylan Thomas Prize from Swansea University has been announced.

The £30,000 prize champions literature published in the English language by authors aged under 39 years old, and the winner will be announced on the 14th of May in an online virtual event.

Each of the works addresses “pressing social and personal concerns and dilemmas of our time”, explained Professor Dai Smith. “In a very dark time these six supremely talented young writers do what all such writers do: they light the way, and so must be read for all our sakes.”

A young Dylan Thomas

Surge by Jay Bernard

“Jay Bernard’s extraordinary debut is a fearlessly original exploration of the black British archive: an enquiry into the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in south London in which thirteen young black people were killed.

Dubbed the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain.

Tracing a line from New Cross to the ‘towers of blood’ of the Grenfell fire, this urgent collection speaks with, in and of the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and the music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice.” 

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Flèche by Mary Jean Chan

“Flèche (the French word for ‘arrow’) is an offensive technique commonly used in fencing, a sport of Mary Jean Chan’s young adult years, when she competed locally and internationally for her home city, Hong Kong. This cross-linguistic pun presents the queer, non-white body as both vulnerable (‘flesh’) and weaponised (‘flèche’), and evokes the difficulties of reconciling one’s need for safety alongside the desire to shed one’s protective armour in order to fully embrace the world.

Central to the collection is the figure of the poet’s mother, whose fragmented memories of political turmoil in twentieth-century China are sensitively threaded through the book in an eight-part poetic sequence, combined with recollections from Chan’s childhood. As complex themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history emerge, so too does a richly imagined personal, maternal and national biography. The result is a series of poems that feel urgent and true, dazzling and devastating by turns.”

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Inland by Tea Obreht

“Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life, biding her time with her youngest son – who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home – and her husband’s seventeen-year-old cousin, who communes with spirits.

Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely – and unforgettably – her own.”

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If All The World And Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton

“When Stephen Sexton was young, video games were a way to slip through the looking glass; to be in two places at once; to be two people at once. In these poems about the death of his mother, this moving, otherworldly narrative takes us through the levels of Super Mario World, whose flowered landscapes bleed into our world, and ours, strange with loss, bleed into it. His remarkable debut is a daring exploration of memory, grief and the necessity of the unreal.”

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

“This is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. And it serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation.”

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Lot by Bryan Washington

“In an apartment block, the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, trying to dodge his brother’s fists and resenting his older sister’s absence. He’s also discovering he likes boys…

All around him his friends and neighbours experience the tumult of living in the margins. Their stories – of living, thriving and dying across the city’s myriad neighbourhoods – are stitched throughout the boy’s life to reveal a young woman caught out in an affair, the fortunes of a rag-tag baseball team and a group of young hustlers, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, and the fate of a camera-shy mythical beast. With brilliant and soulful insight into what makes a community, a family and a life, Lot is about love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms.”

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