Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Caleb Azumah Nelson wins £20,000 Dylan Thomas prize for Small Worlds

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British-Ghanaian author Caleb Azumah Nelson has won this year’s Dylan Thomas prize for his second novel Small Worlds, which judges described as “symphonic” and “viscerally moving”.

Azumah Nelson, 30, was awarded the £20,000 prize at ceremony on Thursday in Swansea, the home city of the poet Dylan Thomas. The prize is given to a writer aged 39 or under in memory of Thomas, who died at that age.

Small Worlds is set between south-east London and Ghana across three summers and follows Stephen as he navigates love and family life. “The family’s small world is populated by a host of characterful Ghanaians,” wrote Colin Grant in a Guardian review of the novel.

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Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson. Photograph: Penguin

“Amid a hugely impressive shortlist that showcased a breadth of genres and exciting new voices, we were unanimous in our praise for this viscerally moving, heartfelt novel,” said writer and Jaipur literature festival co-founder Namita Gokhale. The other titles shortlisted for this year’s prize were A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, The Glutton by AK Blakemore, Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan, Local Fires by Joshua Jones and Biography of X by Catherine Lacey.

“There is a musicality to Caleb Azumah Nelson’s writing, in a book equally designed to be read quietly and listened aloud,” said Gokhale. “Images and ideas recur to beautiful effect, lending the symphonic nature of Small Worlds an anthemic quality, where the reader feels swept away by deeply realised characters as they traverse between Ghana and south London, trying to find some semblance of a home”.

Azumah Nelson was previously recognised by the Dylan Thomas prize in 2022 when he was shortlisted for his debut novel, Open Water. That novel also won the Costa first novel award and debut of the year at the British Book awards, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times young writer of the year and Waterstones book of the year awards, and was longlisted for the Gordon Burn and Desmond Elliott prizes. Small Worlds was also shortlisted for the Orwell prize for political fiction.

Joining Gokhale on the judging panel were the writers Tice Cin, Jon Gower, Seán Hewitt and Julia Wheeler. Writers of all forms of literary works – including poetry, novels, short stories and drama – were eligible to enter the prize.

Previous winners of the prize include Max Porter, Bryan Washington and Patricia Lockwood. In 2023, Arinze Ifeakandu won the prize for his debut short story collection, God’s Children Are Little Broken Things.

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