Wales’ Dylan Thomas Prize Names Raven Leilani Its 2021 Winner

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Called ‘funny and angry’ and ‘always compelling,’ Raven Leilani’s ‘Luster’ wins the £20,000 Dylan Thomas, an internationally watched emerging-artist honor based at Swansea University.

Raven Leilani

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘An Important, Uncomfortable Book’
The American author Raven Leilani on Thursday evening (May 13) was named the winner of Wales’ £20,000 Dylan Thomas Prize for her debut novel, Luster. In the United Kingdom, Luster is published by Pan Macmillan/FSG/Picador (January 21).

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, this is a prize that honors writers under 39 years of age because that’s the age at which the award program’s eponymous poet died. It also offers a handsome amount of money to its annual winner. It carries a purse this year of £20,000 (US$28,192) for its winner.

Namita Gokhale, who has returned this year as chair of the Dylan Thomas jury, is quoted in media messaging, saying, “Luster is an accomplished and fearless novel that carries the ache, uncertainty, and vulnerability as well as the harsh reality of being a young black woman in America.

“The narrator Edie’s incisive eye for all registers of racist bias is unblinking and masterly.

“This is an important, uncomfortable book, in turns funny and angry, and always compelling.

“Raven Leilani is an astonishingly original new voice. The jury of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize unanimously decided on this riveting debut novel as its choice for the 2021 prize. We cannot wait to see what comes next from this uncompromising talent.”

The actor and screenwriter Celyn Jones was a welcome host in the evening’s digital presentation, dressing, as he said, “like an unmade bed” for the occasion and joined by Cerys Matthews for a spirited and too-short reading from the Reminiscences of Childhood, wonderfully ready to hit her most declamatory bravura at just the right moment: “To hear the fierce religious speakers who shouted at the sea as though it was wicked and wrong to roll in and out.”

There also are readings by the shortlisted authors, and you can see this presentation at the end of our article here, we’ll embed it for you.

The 2021 Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist

A sculpture of Dylan Thomas in Swansea. Image: From the Dylan Thomas Prize 2021 awards video

In addition to Leilani’s book, these titles were shortlisted for this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize:

  • Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat (Macmillan, FSG, Picador) – short story collection (debut)
  • Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis (HarperCollins, 4th Estate) – novel (debut)
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Faber & Faber) – novel
  • Pew by Catherine Lacey (Granta) – novel
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (HarperCollins, 4th Estate) – novel (debut)

Below is the prize announcement video released to honor Leilani’s win.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize is here. And more on literary and publishing awards is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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