The Dylan Thomas Prize 2020 Shortlist #SUDTP20 @dylanthomprize

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The shortlist for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2020 was announced  on 7th April and 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)

You can read my review of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong here. Sadly, the other book I read from the longlist, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, didn’t make it through.

Dylan Thomas Prize TimetableAbout the Prize

Launched in 2006, The 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.

Commenting on the six shortlisted titles, 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.”

The Winner of the £30,000 Prize will be announced at 19:00 GMT on Thursday 14th May at a virtual Award Ceremony hosted by Swansea University.

About the Shortlisted Authors

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 AtlanticHarper’sThe NationNew RepublicThe 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.

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.

Dylan Thomas Prize 2020 Shortlist AuthorsTop, from left: Jay Bernard, Mary Jean Chan, Téa Obreht Bottom, from left: Stephen Sexton, Ocean Vuong and Bryan Washington

Have you read any of the shortlisted books? Which book do you think will win?


#BlogTour #BookReview The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay @MidasPR @groveatlantic @dylanthomprize #SUDTP20


Welcome to today’s stop on the mega blog tour celebrating the authors on the longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2020. I’m delighted to bring you my review of one of the longlisted books – The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. My thanks to Martina at Midas PR for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.

Look out for the announcement of the shortlist on 7th April. Ensure you don’t miss a thing by following the hashtag #SUDTP20 on Twitter.

If you missed it, you can also read my review here of another of the longlisted books, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

Dylan Thomas Prize TimetableAbout the Dylan Thomas Prize

Launched in 2006, the annual Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prizeis one of the most prestigious awards for young writers, aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide. It celebrates and nurtures international literary excellence.

The £30,000 Prize is awarded to the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under.

The Far FieldAbout the Book

In the wake of her mother’s death, Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him.

But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir’s politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

Format: Paperback (464 pages)          Publisher: Grove Press
Publication date: 2nd January 2020 Genre: Literary Fiction

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My Review

The book switches back and forth in time between Shalini’s memories of her childhood and the visits of Bashir Ahmed, and her journey to Kashmir to try to track him down following her mother’s death. It’s skilfully plotted so there’s always more to be revealed and there is a tantalising sense of tension throughout. I expect I’m not the only reader who had a disturbing sense of history potentially repeating itself at certain moments.

The author brilliantly conveys the tensions within Shalini’s family, in particular her mercurial mother who can change from charming to disdainful in a moment, what Shalini refers to as her mother’s ‘lightning switch from one self to another.’ It’s something her father finds difficult to handle.  With Bashir Ahmed and her mother, it’s a different matter. Shalini recalls, ‘Looking back, I can see that something powerful occurred in that moment and it still astonishes me all these years later: Bashir Ahmed understood in about five minutes what took my father decades‘.

Like some three dimensional chess game, Shalini recalls her younger self’s struggle to make sense of ‘these shifting, traitorous pieces – mother, visitor, father – trying to keep track of their masked sentences, their mutable moods, waiting for a clear sign of what my next move should be.’ The burden of keeping secrets is also evident. Shalini reflects, ‘I thought of all the secrets I had carried as far back into my childhood as I could remember. I felt them pile one on top of another, suffocating me.’ However, perhaps some secrets are best left buried.

The author’s acute observation of the way in which people interact is memorably displayed in a scene depicting what must surely be the most ill-judged dinner party in history.

I loved the descriptions of the small Kashmiri village where Bashir Ahmed’s family live and the details of everyday life. ‘…The houses were flung wide upon the mountainside, like a handful of brightly coloured toys tossed by a careless hand, separated by narrow rocky ridges and terraced cornfields.’ The generous hospitality offered to Shalini both by Bashir Ahmed’s family, and earlier by Abdul Latief and his wife, Zoya, shows how this is embedded in Indian culture. However, the tension between the different religious communities and the shadow of past events are always in the background, as Shalini will discover as she faces difficult decisions about her future and comes face to face with the realities of life in Kashmir. The contrasts are stark: ‘...this place, these people, this life, with its secrets and its violence, its hardness and its beauty.’

One of the question the book poses is whether the impulse to act is always the wisest option, even for the best of intentions. “Isn’t that the important thing, to do something?” Shalini insists at one point. On the other hand, is the price of not acting just as high? Shalini’s experiences lead her to conclude that, in her family at least, ‘Ours has always been a story of cowardice, of things left unsaid.’ The book also reveals the unintended consequences on others of our actions. In Shalini’s case, this is manifested in a quite devastating way.

The Far Field is the sort of book I love: great writing, a compelling story that immerses me in the lives of its characters, and that gives me an insight into the culture and history of an area of the world about which I knew little. I am grateful to the Dylan Thomas Prize and Midas PR for the opportunity to read a book I might not otherwise have come across. It certainly deserves its place on the longlist, I hope it makes the shortlist and I would love to see it win.

In three words: Assured, acutely-observed, compelling

Try something similar: The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

Madhuri-VijayAbout the Author

Madhuri Vijay was born and raised in Bangalore. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, and her writing has appeared in Best American Non-Required Reading, Narrative Magazine, and Elle India, among other publications.

The Far Field is her first book. She currently lives in Hawaii. [Photo credit: Dylan Thomas Prize/Manvi Rao]

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