On 16 May, in the beautiful, historic surroundings of Swansea's Guildhall, we recognised the achievements of this year's wonderful crop of book reviewers. Pupils and students from schools and colleges across Swansea, as well as students from Swansea University, took part in the 2019 competition, producing eloquent, thoughtful and touching reviews of the 2019 International Dylan Thomas Prize shortlisted books.
The stellar shortlist heard their works wonderfully explored and examined by the young readers. Professor's John Spurr - Head of (COAH Swansea) and Dai Smith (Head of the Dylan Thomas Prize judging panel) praised the continued participation of the schools in South Wales in the DylanED programme and the reviews that have been received. The Lord Mayor of Swansea, Councillor David Phillips performed his last speaking duty as Mayor and spoke of the city's rich literary heritage and his pride in seeing it continue through programmes like DylanED. Trefor Ellis (Dylan Thomas' son in law) represented the family of Dylan Thomas and presented the winners with their deserved awards.
The results were as follows:
Schools and Colleges Category
Highly Commended - Efa Bowen's highly commended review of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's Friday Black. Her opening line reads: ‘Captivatingly strange and escalating from the ordinary everyday situations to horrific violence, Adjei-Brenyah’s startling debut will confound and terrorise all who read it.’
Joint 3rd Place - Cara Davies' review of Sarah Perry's Melmoth. Opening her review she writes: ‘Follow the flawed protagonist Helen Franklin on her emotional journey into forgiving herself for the unforgivable.’
Joint 3rd Place - Caitlin Grigg-Williams’ review of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's Friday Black. Catlin described the title short story as ‘a captivating story, though it’s hard to choose a favourite of the stories, this magical realist world personally captivated me. It humorously explores the American mall-culture through the event of ‘Black Friday’ at the centre of the chaos of a stampede of tumultuous and frenzied shoppers.’
2nd Place - Rhianna Rees' review of Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's House of Stone which she described as ‘a captivating tale and an entire year’s worth of history lesson, all rolled into one harrowing book – and it is fantastic!’
1st Place - Megan Phillip's review of Louisa Hall's Trinity. Megan concludes, ‘The novel makes us question the way in which we perceive others, and in turn ourselves, as we ask how confidently we can truly know someone while hiding from the truth in our own lives. A thought-provoking and cleverly ambiguous tail of trust, destruction, paranoia and hope, Louisa Hall effortlessly captures the uncertainty and precariousness of a world and a man trying to salvage the wreckage they left behind.’
Swansea University Student Category
Highly Commended - Janet Davies's highly commended review of Guy Gunaratne's In Our Mad and Furious City she writes ‘Gunaratne’s characters are imperfect beings, evoking both sympathy and criticism.’
3rd Place - John Baddeley's review of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's Friday Black John remarks, ‘Friday Black is enormous. Not literally, but its themes are contemporary, raw and they feel substantial. Consumerist culture is critiqued through shoppers willing to kill for the latest Parka. Institutionalised racism is disturbingly shown through a theme-park. Many more themes are as frankly confronted and throughout all stories Adjei-Brenyah’s command of prose remains exquisite and honest.’
2nd Place - Dawn Thomson's review of Louisa Hall's Trinity. Dawn describes the novel as ‘Vast in scope and yet intimate in the personal stories it combines, this novel succeeds at both macrocosmic and microcosmic levels.’
1st Place - Polly Manning's review of Zoe Gilbert's Folk. Polly explains,
‘…don’t be fooled into thinking this collection of stories is whimsical. With a sensual appreciation of nature, and borrowing from the folk history of the Isle of Man, Gilbert crafts stories which feel simultaneously age-old and modern.’