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Six books on this year's shortlist next to a bust of Dylan Thomas

Celebrating the Prize’s 15th anniversary, the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize recalls its namesake thanks to the dominance of young and experimental poets showcased on its shortlist each of whom are in the running for the £30,000 prize.

From Jay Bernard whose collection, Surge, addresses black radical British history against the backdrop of the Grenfell and Windrush scandals, to Hong Kong-born LGBTQ+ poet Mary Jean Chan for Flèche which tackles themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history, and Belfast poet Stephen Sexton who explores grief through his love of Super Mario games, each are recognised for their powerful, political and deeply personal debut collections.

In fiction, three incredibly talented international writers are recognised, including Vietnamese-American poet and essayist Ocean Vuong who is celebrated for his international bestselling lyrical novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Belgrade-born Orange Prize winner Téa Obreht whose latest novel Inland paints a portrait of the American dream in the Wild West and Bryan Washington’s Lot which presents a collection of interlinked short stories deep-diving into his native Houston. 

About the six shortlisted titles, who were judged by a bumper guest panel, the chair of the judges Swansea University’s Professor Dai Smith CBE, said: “The shortlist for 2020 ranges across the genres of poetry, short form fiction and the novel, and each work manages to address upfront the pressing social and personal concerns and dilemmas of our time. But what suddenly stands out in stark relief, amidst the overwhelming global nature of the crisis in which all humanity now finds itself struggling to cope, are the universal values which these disparate books highlight: compassion, empathy, courage against despair, anger against indifference, love in despite of everything. 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.”

This year’s shortlist comprises three poetry collections, two novels and one short story collection:

  • Surge - Jay Bernard (Chatto & Windus)
  • Flèche - Mary Jean Chan (Faber & Faber)
  • Inland - Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • If All the World and Love were Young - Stephen Sexton (Penguin Random House)
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong (Jonathan Cape, Vintage)
  • Lot - Bryan Washington (Atlantic Books)

Worth £30,000, the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes as well as the world’s largest literary prize for young writers. Awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under, the Prize celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama.

On receiving the 2019 award for his debut novel In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne said: “Dylan Thomas has always meant a lot to me, he’s a writer I’ve always turned to for inspiration. And after winning this prize, my mind just goes to all the other writers, or aspiring writers, who are writing from a place like where I began. A place like Neasden, somewhere I always thought was a nowhere place. But to make art out of the world, the language, the voices I grew up around I always felt was important…”

The winner will be announced at 7pm on Thursday 14 May in a virtual ceremony hosted by Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize.

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