Diverse voices and debuts dominate in the world’s biggest prize for young writers

This year the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize celebrates its most diverse shortlist yet.

Breakout debut authors top the list, including the American-Ghanaian Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, British-Sri-Lankan Guy Gunaratne and Zimbabwe-born Novuyo Rosa Tshuma being selected for their powerful and challenging works tackling race, immigration and post-colonial history. Joining them on the shortlist are Louisa Hall with her kaleidoscopic novel on Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, Zoe Gilbert and her stunning folkloric tale of the fictional village of Neverness, and Sarah Perry with her latest bestseller Melmoth.

After careful deliberation the shortlist was chosen by a judging panel chaired by Swansea University Professor Dai Smith CBE with Professor Kurt Heinzelman; Books Editor for the BBC Di Speirs and award-winning novelist Kit de Waal.

Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist 2019

This year's shortlisted authors, clockwise from top left: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Zoe Gilbert, Guy Gunaratne,  Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Sarah Perry and Louisa Hall

Professor Dai Smith said of the shortlist: “Yet again the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize has uncovered a wealth of new talent representing a group of contemporary and diverse voices from across the world. They are linked by a passion for individual sensibilities against a backdrop of history; sometimes violent, always life-changing. No doubt these six writers will go on to make their distinctive voices heard, contributing to that timeless canon of literature that entrances, challenges and provokes.”

 The six shortlisted books comprise five novels and one collection of short stories including:

  • American-Ghanaian writer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (27) for his debut short story collection Friday Black (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US) and Riverrun (UK)) which explores what it’s like to grow up as a black male in America, and whose powerful style of writing has been likened to George Saunders.
  • Debut novelist Zoe Gilbert (39) for Folk (Bloomsbury Publishing) which was developed from her fascination in ancient folklore and the resurgence of nature writing. She has previously won the Costa Short Story Award in 2014.
  • British-Sri-Lankan debut novelist, Guy Gunaratne (34) for In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press, Headline), longlisted for The Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for The Goldsmiths Prize, The Gordon Burn Prize as well as the Writers Guild Awards.
  • Third time novelist, Louisa Hall (36) with her latest book Trinity (Ecco) which tackles the complex life of the Father of the Atomic Bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer through seven fictional characters.
  • For the second time Sarah Perry (39) has been shortlisted for the Prize this time for Melmoth (Serpent’s Tail), one of The Observer’s Best Fiction Books of the Year 2018, and a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.
  • Zimbabwean debut novelist Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (30) with her wildly inventive and darkly humorous novel House of Stone (Atlantic Books) which reveals the mad and glorious death of colonial Rhodesia and the bloody birth of modern Zimbabwe.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 16 May at Swansea University’s Great Hall, just after International Dylan Thomas Day on 14 May.