The Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize is proud to announce its 2021 shortlist.
Namita Gokhale, Chair of Judges: “We are thrilled to present this year’s extraordinary shortlist – it is truly a world-class writing showcase of the highest order from six exceptional young writers. I want to press each and every one of these bold, inventive and distinctive books into the hands of readers, and celebrate how they challenge preconceptions, ask new questions about how we define identity and our relationships, and how we live together in this world. Congratulations to these tremendously talented writers – they are master storytellers in every sense of the word.”
Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat (Picador)
In Alligator and Other Stories, Dima Alzayat captures luminously how it feels to be ‘other’: as a Syrian, as an Arab, as an immigrant, as a woman. Each story of the nine stories is a snapshot of those moments when unusual circumstances suddenly distinguish us from our neighbours, when our difference is thrown into relief. Here are ‘dangerous’ women transgressing, missing children in 1970s New York, a family who were once Syrian but have now lost their name, and a young woman about to discover the hollowness of the American dream. At its centre lies ‘Alligator’: a remarkable compilation of real and invented sources, which rescues from history the story of a Syrian American couple who were murdered at the hands of the state. Alzayat explores experiences that are startling and real, delivering an emotional punch that lingers long after reading.
Francesca Rhydderch on Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat: “Dima Alzayat’s visceral, innovative Alligator & Other Stories marks the arrival of a major new talent. While the range of styles and stories is impressively broad, there is a unity of voice and tone here which must have been so very difficult to achieve, and a clear sense that all these disparate elements are part of an overriding, powerful examination of identity.”
Dima Alzayat, Alligator and Other Stories (Picador)
Dima Alzayat was born in Damascus, Syria, grew up in San Jose, California, and now lives in Manchester. She was the winner of the 2019 ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, a 2018 Northern Writers’ Award, the 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize and the 2015 Bernice Slote Award. She was runner-up in the 2018 Deborah Rogers Award and the 2018 Zoetrope: All-Story Competition, and was Highly Commended in the 2013 Bridport Prize.
Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
The lives of two women—the sole survivor of an airplane crash and the troubled park ranger who leads the rescue mission to find her —intersect in a gripping debut novel of hope and resilience, second thoughts and second chances I no longer pass judgment on any man nor woman. People are people, and I do not believe there is much more to be said on the matter. Twenty years ago I might have been of a different mind about that, but I was a different Cloris Waldrip back then. I might have gone on being that same Cloris Waldrip, the one I had been for seventy-two years, had I not fallen out of the sky in that little airplane on Sunday, August 31, 1986. It does amaze that a woman can reach the tail end of her life and find that she hardly knows herself at all. When seventy-two-year-old Cloris Waldrip finds herself lost and alone in the unforgiving wilderness of the Montana mountains, with only a bible, a sturdy pair of boots, and a couple of candies to keep her alive, it seems her chances of ever getting home to Texas are slim. Debra Lewis, a park ranger, who is drinking her way out of the aftermath of a messy divorce is the only one who believes the old lady may still be alive. Galvanized by her newfound mission to find her, Lewis leads a motley group of rescuers to follow the trail of clues that Cloris has left behind. But as days stretch into weeks, and Cloris’s situation grows ever more precarious, help arrives from the unlikeliest of places, causing her to question all the certainties on which she has built her life. Suspenseful, wry and gorgeously written Kingdomtide is the inspiring account of two unforgettable characters, whose heroism reminds us that survival is only the beginning.
Joshua Ferris on Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis: “Kingdomtide is a propulsively readable and frequently very funny book about the resources, personal and natural, necessary to survive a patently absurd world. The winning voice of Texas-native Cloris Waldrip artfully takes us through her eighty-eight-day ordeal in the wilds of Montana as the inimitable drunk and park ranger Debra Lewis searches for her. This fine novel combines the perfect modern yarn with something transcendent, lyrical and wise.”
Rye Curtis, Kingdomtide (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
Rye Curtis is 30 years old, originally from Amarillo, Texas but now living in Brooklyn.
Twitter: @ryecurtis0 | Instagram: @rye.curtis
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Faber)
They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died. One afternoon, a mother opens her front door to find the length of her son’s body stretched out on the veranda, swaddled in akwete material, his head on her welcome mat. The Death of Vivek Oji transports us to the day of Vivek’s birth, the day his grandmother Ahunna died. It is the story of an over protective mother and a distant father, and the heart-wrenching tale of one family’s struggle to understand their child, just as Vivek learns to recognize himself. Teeming with unforgettable characters whose lives have been shaped by Vivek’s gentle and enigmatic spirit, it shares with us a Nigerian childhood that challenges expectations. This novel, and its celebration of the innocence and optimism of youth, will touch all those who embrace it.
Namita Gokhale on The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi: “The Death of Vivek Oji’ by Akwaeke Emezi is a powerful novel that carries the authenticity of cultural and emotional context. The story unfolds brilliantly, with the prescient foreboding about Vivek Oji’s death already announced in the brief line that constitutes the opening chapter. Yet the suspense is paced and carefully maintained until the truth is finally communicated in the final chapter. A triumph of narrative craft.”
Akwaeke Emezi, The Death of Vivek Oji (Faber)
Akwaeke Emezi is a writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. A 2018 National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree, their debut novel Freshwater was longlisted for both the Women’s Prize for Fiction and for the Wellcome Book Prize. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, among others. Their first novel for young adults, Pet, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Emezi’s most recent novel, The Death of Vivek Oji was a New York Times bestseller on publication in 2020. Emezi’s writing has appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, BuzzFeed and The Cut, among other publications.
[photo credit: Kathleen Bomani]
Pew by Catherine Lacey (Granta)
Fleeing a past they can no longer remember, Pew wakes on a church bench, surrounded by curious strangers. Pew doesn’t have a name, they’ve forgotten it. Pew doesn’t know if they’re a girl or a boy, a child or an almost-adult. Is Pew an orphan, or something worse? And what terrible trouble are they running from? Pew won’t speak, but the men and women of this small, god-fearing town are full of questions. As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence
Francesca Rhydderch on Pew by Catherine Lacey: “In this brilliant novel Catherine Lacey shows herself to be completely unafraid as a writer, willing to tackle the uglier aspects of a fictional small town in America, where a stranger’s refusal to speak breeds paranoia and unease. Beautifully written, sharply observed, and sophisticated in its simplicity, Pew is a book I’m already thinking of as a modern classic.”
Catherine Lacey, Pew (Granta)
Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels The Answers and Nobody Is Ever Missing, and the collection of stories Certain American States. She has won a Whiting Award, was a finalist for the NYPL's Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch & German. She was born in Mississippi and is based in Chicago.
[photo credit: Willy Somma]
Luster by Raven Leilani (Picador; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family. Razor sharp, provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now.
Syima Aslam on Luster by Raven Leilani: “Sharp and incisive, Luster speaks a fearless truth that takes no hostages. Leilani is unflinchingly observant about the realities of being a young, black woman in America today and revelatory when it comes to exploring unconventional family life and 21st century adultery, in this darkly comic and strangely touching debut.”
Raven Leilani, Luster (Picador; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Raven Leilani’s work has been published in Granta, The Yale Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, The Cut, and New England Review, among other publications. She received her MFA from NYU and was an Axinn Foundation Writer-in-Residence. Luster is her first novel.
[photo credit: Nina Subin]
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student. Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn't abuse. It was love. She's sure of that. Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many. Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues of our age.
Stephen Sexton on My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: “My Dark Vanessa is an articulate, uncompromising and compelling novel about abuse, its long trail of damage and its devastating iterations. In Vanessa, Russell introduces us to a character of immense complexity, whose rejection of victimhood—in favour of something more like love—is tragic and unforgettable. Timely, harrowing, of supreme emotional intelligence, My Dark Vanessa is the story of one girl; of many girls, and of the darknesses of western literature.”
Kate Elizabeth Russell, My Dark Vanessa (HarperCollins, 4th Estate)
Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.