The International Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist 2021

The shortlist for this year’s International Dylan Thomas Prize has been announced.

Chair of the 2021 judging panel, Namita Gokhale, says: “We are thrilled to present this year’s extraordinary shortlist – it is truly a world-class writing showcase of the highest order from six exceptional young writers. I want to press each and every one of these bold, inventive and distinctive books into the hands of readers, and celebrate how they challenge preconceptions, ask new questions about how we define identity and our relationships, and how we live together in this world. Congratulations to these tremendously talented writers – they are master storytellers in every sense of the word.”

Below are the six shortlisted books for the 2021 prize.


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Luster by Raven Leilani

Meet Edie. Edie is not okay. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting.

No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young, black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling headfirst into Eric’s home and family.


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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

All he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster.

Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that. Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life - her great sexual awakening - as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.


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The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emez

They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.

This is the tale of Vivek Oji: it begins with his end, his naked body shrouded on his mother’s doorstep, and moves backwards through time to unpick the story of his life and the mystery surrounding his death.

The Death of Vivek Oji is the story of a Nigerian childhood quite different from those we have been told before. Teeming with unforgettable characters, it is as compulsively readable as it is tender and potent. This novel of family and friendship challenges expectations - it is a story of the innocence of youth that will move every reader.


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Pew by Catherine Lacey

Fleeing a past they can no longer remember, Pew wakes on a church bench, surrounded by curious strangers.

Pew doesn’t have a name, they’ve forgotten it. Pew doesn’t know if they’re a girl or a boy, a child or an almost-adult. Is Pew an orphan, or something worse? And what terrible trouble are they running from?

Pew won’t speak, but the men and women of this small, god-fearing town are full of questions. As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s terrible silence.


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Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat

In Alligator and Other Stories, Dima Alzayat captures luminously the many ways of feeling displaced: as a Syrian, as an Arab, as an immigrant, as a woman. Often told through the lens everyday scenarios, her stories are rich, relatable, and full of nuance. Each story is a snapshot of those moments when unusual circumstances suddenly distinguish us from our neighbours, throw into relief the fact that we are ‘other’.

There are ‘dangerous’ women transgressing in ‘Daughters of Manat’, and ‘A Girl in Three Acts’; In ‘Only Those Who Struggle Succeed’ a young woman will let nothing stand in the way of career success, only to discover the boulder that others have placed in her path; in ‘Ghusl’, a young woman carefully washes her brother’s body as she prepares him for burial and looks back on their childhood together; ‘Disappearance’ loosens the boundaries of diaspora or immigrant stories, and features protagonists whose ethnicity is neither central nor vital; and ‘Alligator’, the centrepiece that connects the thematic threads running throughout this book, is an incredible work: a compilation of first-person accounts, newspaper clippings, letters, real and fictionalized historical and legal documents, scripts and social-media posts, which tell the story of a Syrian-American couple killed by their town’s police department and a vigilante lynch mob. Each of these stories is startling and real, but delivers an emotional punch that lingers long after reading.


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Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis

I no longer pass judgment on any man nor woman. People are people, and I do not believe there is much more to be said on the matter. Twenty years ago I might have been of a different mind about that, but I was a different Cloris Waldrip back then. I might have gone on being that same Cloris Waldrip, the one I had been for seventy-two years, had I not fallen out of the sky in that little airplane on Sunday, August 31, 1986. It does amaze that a woman can reach the tail end of her life and find that she hardly knows herself at all.

When seventy-two-year-old Cloris Waldrip finds herself lost and alone in the unforgiving wilderness of the Montana mountains, with only a bible, a sturdy pair of boots, and a couple of candies to keep her alive, it seems her chances of ever getting home to Texas are slim. Debra Lewis, a park ranger, who is drinking her way out of the aftermath of a messy divorce is the only one who believes the old lady may still be alive. Galvanized by her newfound mission to find her, Lewis leads a motley group of rescuers to follow the trail of clues that Cloris has left behind.

But as days stretch into weeks, and Cloris’s situation grows ever more precarious, help arrives from the unlikeliest of places, causing her to question all the certainties on which she has built her life.


This Prize is run in partnership with Swansea University and is awarded to the best literary work in the English language written by an author aged 39 and under. The winning author will receive £30,000.

The winner to be announced at a ceremony on 13 May. Find out more about the International Dylan Thomas Prize here.

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Luster

Luster

Raven Leilani

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