The Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2023 shortlist

Today, the shortlist for one of the world’s largest literary prizes celebrating young writers – the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize – is announced, showcasing the breadth and depth of new international writing talent.

The shortlist – featuring four debuts and four female writers, as well as three titles from independent publishing houses – comprises three novels, two short story collections, and one poetry collection.

  • Limberlost by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic Books) – novel (Australia)
  • Seven Steeples by Sara Baume (Tramp Press) – novel (Ireland)
  • God's Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson) – short story collection (Nigeria)
  • I'm a Fan by Sheena Patel (Rough Trade Books/ Granta) – novel (UK)
  • Send Nudes by Saba Sams (Bloomsbury Publishing) – short story collection (UK)
  • Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire (Chatto & Windus, Vintage) – poetry collection (Somalia-UK)

Di Speirs, Chair of the judges, and Books Editor at BBC Audio, said: “There’s brilliance and beauty in the six books shortlisted for this year’s Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize. All six – while hugely different in style, subject and genre, and ranging from rural Tasmania and the wild Irish coast to the sharply contemporary in Nigeria and the UK – exemplify not only the talent and excitingly fresh, often startling, writing we were seeking, but draw the reader in and on. There’s wit and wisdom, pleasure and pain, acute observation of the natural world and of human relationships and above all, so much to savour. That we all agreed so clearly on our shortlist is testament to the strength of this potent mix of poetry, short stories and novels and to the power of the six writers.”

Worth £20,000, 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.

This year’s shortlist includes three of the most talked about British female authors writing about contemporary womanhood: Somali-British writer Warsan Shire, the world-famous poet behind Beyoncé’s features Lemonade and Black is King, pays homage to refugees, Black women and teenage girls in her electrifying debut collection, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head; Sheena Patel – recently longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and the Jhalak Prize – offers a piercing critique of social media and heteronormative relationships in her era-defining debut novel I’m a Fan; and Saba Sams, who burst onto the UK writing scene after winning the BBC National Short Story Award 2022 and who is the youngest contender for this year’s prize (aged 26), is recognised for her tender and witty Send Nudes – a short story collection which highlights the confusing double standards facing women today.

Completing the shortlist are three international authors at the forefront of their home nation’s literary scenes. From Ireland comes Sara Baume – winner of the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature – who is nominated for her poetic third novel Seven Steeples, which depicts a couple escaping into the wilds of South-West Ireland. Australia’s Robbie Arnott, a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, has been nominated for his spellbinding third novel Limberlost, which transports readers to the folkloric setting of the Tasmanian wilderness. The final contender for this year’s prize is Nigeria’s Arinze Ifeakandu, an AKO Caine Prize for African Writing finalist, who makes a confident debut with his exquisite short story collection, God's Children Are Little Broken Things – a book which explores what it means to be a queer male in his home country.

The Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize winner will be announced at a Winner’s Ceremony held in Swansea on Thursday 11 May, prior to International Dylan Thomas Day on Sunday 14 May.

Joining Di Speirs in whittling down the six-strong shortlist to a single winner is prize-winning Welsh author and lecturer in English at Swansea University, Jon Gower, American bestselling author and 2012 winner of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize winner Maggie Shipstead, British poet and the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Women of Colour, Rachel Long, and Nepali-Indian author and 2013 Prize shortlistee Prajwal Parajuly.

Prajwal Parajuly on Limberlost by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic Books) – novel, Australia

“We loved this book for its stunning sentences, its quiet meditation on masculinity, and its ability to conjure up (as well as transport us to) 1940s Tasmania. There’s a beautiful tenderness to Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost that impressed us. We are thrilled to have it on the 2023 shortlist.”

Jon Gower on Seven Steeples by Sara Baume (Tramp Press) – novel, Ireland

“This beautifully quiet and quietly beautiful novel maps out two lovers’ lives with custodial care and in delicate, precision prose. In Bell and Sigh, Sarah Baume has created a marvellously shambolic and memorable pair of characters, setting them in a creaking house in a wind-blown Irish landscape, where they walk their dogs and grow ever closer. Tender and true, this is a book that lingers like the coconut scent of gorse in full flower.”

Maggie Shipstead on God's Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson) – short story collection, Nigeria

“Arinze Ifeakandu’s story collection, God’s Children Are Little Broken Things, brings incisive authorial insight and compassionate, compelling humanity to the lives of its characters. The persistence of queer love and desire in the face of oppression is beautifully rendered.”

Di Speirs on I'm a Fan by Sheena Patel (Rough Trade Books) – novel, UK

“We loved Patel’s book for its immediacy, vibrancy and shafts of spikey humour. While no-one would want the relationship within the pages, we found ourselves compelled to read on, rooting for our narrator, hoping she’d execute an escape from it all – the man, the woman and the shallow ephemera she captures so pithily.  A memorable and exciting new voice on the literary scene, we are sure we’ll hear more of Sheena Patel.”

Rachel Long on Send Nudes by Saba Sams (Bloomsbury Publishing) – short story collection, UK

An exciting, empowering collection of short stories, full of knowing, daring, wit and range. I could not put this book down! Each story its own unique universe of what it is/can be to navigate and experience girl/womanhood. My only gripe is that I wish this book existed when I was in my teens or in my twenties!

Maggie Shipstead on Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire – poetry, Somalia-UK

“Bless the Daughter Raised By a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is the kind of poetry collection that takes up residence in your psyche and becomes a part of you, echoing when you least expect it. Shire’s words are deeply specific but also full of inclusive—even universal—resonance about the complexities of family, self, and home."

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