Dylan Thomas prize: teacher and nurse among 'starburst' of young talent

Sally Rooney, Sarah Perry and Michael Donkor among those longlisted for £30,000 prize for books by writers aged 39 or under

From the critically acclaimed debut of Emma Glass, a 31-year-old still working as a nurse, to the first book by 33-year-old Michael Donkor, who currently teaches English in a London secondary school, a “starburst of young literary talent” makes up the longlist for the largest prize in the world for young authors.

Given to the best literary work in English by an author aged 39 or under, the £30,000 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas prize is named after the beloved Welsh poet, who died at the age of 39. It is intended to “invoke his memory to support the writers of today and nurture the talents of tomorrow”.

This year’s longlist, announced on Thursday, features two 27-year-olds regarded as rising literary stars: Ireland’s Sally Rooney, picked for her second novel Normal People, and American short story writer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, chosen for his debut collection Friday Black. Rooney missed out on the Costa book of the year earlier this week with her story of two young people’s will-they-won’t-they relationship, while Friday Black, which tackles racism and cultural unrest, has been called “an excitement and a wonder” by Man Booker prizewinner George Saunders.

Also in the running for the £30,000 prize are London author Guy Gunaratne, picked for his Booker-longlisted debut novel In Our Mad and Furious City; the critically acclaimed and bestselling novelist Sarah Perry for her third novel Melmoth; and Glass, who works at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, for Peach, set in the aftermath of the sexual assault of a young woman.

Despite the praise that has been heaped Peach – the Observer said it “packs one hell of a punch” – Glass told the Guardian last year that she had no intention of giving up her day job. “I’m not sure at what point I will flip around and say that first and foremost I’m a writer, rather than a nurse. And I really always want to have a balance of the two. I worked really hard to become a nurse. I love my job. It challenges me and it makes me a better writer,” she said.

Chair of the judges Dai Smith said this year’s longlist was the strongest the prize had ever had. “We’ve been taken aback by it,” he said. “What’s really hit us over the last couple of years, and particularly this year, is the international dimension of it. There is such a diversity of writers here.”

Donkor, born in London to Ghanaian parents, was picked for his debut Hold, a coming-of-age novel moving between those two settings. Clare Fisher, 31, was picked for How the Light Gets In, a collection of very short stories which “explores the spaces between light and dark”. Poet Richard Scott, 37, is nominated for his debut collection Soho, which explores love and gay shame. And Costa short-story award-winner Zoe Gilbert was selected for her first novel Folk, set on a remote island rich with ancient lore.

Internationally, US author Louisa Hall is nominated for her third novel, Trinity, about J Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb; 30-year-old Zimbabwean Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is listed for her debut novel House of Stone; and American poet Jenny Xie for Eye Level, which ranges across Phnom Penh, Corfu, Hanoi and New York, with the 32-year-old writing: “Me? I’m just here in my traveler’s clothes, trying on each passing town for size.”

“The longlist is a starburst of young literary talent,” said Smith. “Writers from across the world, from diverse communities and backgrounds, tackle challenging subject matter in ways both unexpected and exhilarating, through short stories, novels or poetry, in folktale or gothic mode, with a contemporary scalpel or an historical viewfinder. The list is a treat.”

The six-book shortlist will be announced in April, and the winner on 16 May 2019.

International Dylan Thomas prize 2019

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in US and Riverrun in UK)

Hold by Michael Donkor (4th Estate)

How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher (Influx Press)

Folk by Zoe Gilbert (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Peach by Emma Glass (Bloomsbury Publishing)

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne (Tinder Press, Headline)

Trinity by Louisa Hall (Ecco)

Melmoth by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)

Soho by Richard Scott (Faber & Faber)

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Atlantic Books)

Eye Level by Jenny Xie (Graywolf Press)


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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