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 we also recognise three incredibly talented international writers, 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.
“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.”
Professor Dai Smith CBE
This year’s shortlist comprises three poetry collections, two novels and one short story collection:
Surge – Jay Bernard
Jay Bernard is the author of the pamphlets Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl (Tall Lighthouse, 2008), English Breakfast (Math Paper Press, 2013) and The Red and Yellow Nothing (Ink Sweat & Tears Press, 2016), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award 2017. A film programmer at BFI Flare and an archivist at Statewatch, they also participated in ‘The Complete Works II’ project in 2014 and in which they were mentored by Kei Miller. Jay was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2005 and a winner of SLAMbassadors UK spoken word championship. In 2019 Jay was selected by Jackie Kay as one of Britain’s ten best BAME writers for the British Council and National Centre for Writing’s International Literature Showcase. Their poems have been collected in Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe, 2009), The Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt, 2011), Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014) and Out of Bounds: British Black & Asian Poets (Bloodaxe, 2014). Surge is available to buy from Penguin.
Flèche – Mary Jean Chan
Mary Jean Chan is a London-based poet, lecturer and editor from Hong Kong. Her debut poetry collection, Flèche (Faber & Faber), is the winner of the 2019 Costa Book Award for Poetry. Chan has twice been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and is the recipient of a 2019 Eric Gregory Award and the 2018 Poetry Society Geoffrey Dearmer Prize. Chan currently lectures in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. Flèche is available to buy from Faber & Faber.
Inland – Téa Obreht
Téa Obreht is the author of The Tiger’s Wife, winner of the Orange Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award, and Inland. She was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, in 1985 and has lived in the United States since the age of twelve. She currently lives in New York City. Inland is available to buy from Weidenfeld & Nicolson
If All the World and Love were Young – Stephen Sexton
Stephen Sexton lives in Belfast where he teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. His first book, If All the World and Love Were Young, is forthcoming from Penguin. If All the World and Love were Young is available to buy from Penguin Random House.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, winner of the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. His writings have also been featured in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. In 2019 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor of English at UMass-Amherst. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is his first novel. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is available to buy from Penguin Random House.
Lot – Bryan Washington
Bryan Washington is a National Book Award 5 Under 35 honouree and the author of the collection, Lot, and the forthcoming novel, Memorial. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, BuzzFeed, Vulture, The Paris Review, Tin House, One Story, Bon Appétit, GQ, The Awl, and Catapult. He lives in Houston. Lot is available to buy from Atlantic books.
Worth £30,000, it 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.
The Winner will be announced at 19:00 GMT Thursday 14th May in a virtual ceremony hosted by Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize.