I was delighted to attend this year’s International Dylan Thomas Prize award ceremony, at the Great Hall, Swansea University.
The award is the World’s largest literary prize for young writers. As well as critical plaudits, it provides the winner with £30,000 which always comes in handy when you’re a struggling writer. The competition is open to any authors for any works, up to the age of 39 years old. The age limit of 39 is in recognition of the short number of years that Dylan Thomas spent on the earth.
The ceremony, this year presented by broadcaster Carolynn Hitt, is in its tenth year. It previously took place in November, but was moved to May to coincide with International Dylan Thomas Day (‘Dylan Day’) which is the day I felt it was most appropriate to post this little piece about it.
The shortlisted authors and books for the 2018 prize were:
- Carmen Maria Machado – Her Body and Other Parties
- Kayo Chingonyi – Kumukanda
- Gwendoline Riley – First Love
- Sally Rooney – Conversations with Friends
- Emily Ruskovich – Idaho
- Gabriel Tallent – My Absolute Darling
Following a star-studded drinks reception, we were treated to readings from each author, most in person but some by video link. The shortlist was made up of novels, a poetry book and a short story collection. It was fascinating how some readings absolutely grabbed your attention – some no doubt due to the high quality oration of the authors, and some by the actual selections chosen by those authors to highlight the best (or most interesting) parts of their work.
For me in particular, Gabriel, Carmen and Gwedonline stood out – all of their readings intrigued me and caused me to buy their books after the event. They gave just enough to hook almost everyone in the room. Then Kayo stepped up and immaculately delivered one of his poems with no book or paper in front of him to read; he confidently stood there in a smart suit, and captivated the audience with a wonderful poem about his father.
It was clear that there was a lot of talent in the room, and whoever would win would be well deserving of such recognition.
Michael Sheen then took the stage and delivered a spine-tingling recitation of Dylan’s ‘The Force that through the Green Fuse’. His pronunciation and delivery was pin sharp, with words resonating around the Great Hall as if Thomas or Burton were delivering them. Special stuff.
Dylan’s granddaughter (and Creative Director of the Dylan Thomas Estate) Hannah Ellis, and Head of Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, Elaine Canning took the stage to talk through DylanEd – a programme of works to engage with local schools, higher and further education facilities to encourage pupils to make the most of their talents.
Then came the time to announce the winner.
Michael Sheen and Hannah Ellis again took the stage to announce that the judging panel, headed by Professor Dai Smith CBE, had decided that the worthy winner of this year’s prize would be:
Kayo Chingonyi with his collection of poetry, Kumukanda.
Kayo graciously stepped onto the stage to receive the award, making a touching speech in which he talked about how teachers had influenced his love of words, and also thanked his partner who, that day, had also had her first book published – I’m sure that
10th May 2018 will be a special day to remember for that couple for some time.
I enjoyed chatting with some of the attendees and authors after the event, and wholeheartedly recommend you attending in future if you are able to.
Congratulations again to Kayo and all shortlisted writers, contributors, speakers and organisers.