Raven Leilani’s novel Luster was announced the winner of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2021 on Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer who became widely popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death at the age of 39. The International Dylan Thomas Prize aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide was set up by the Swansea University in his honour. The £20,000 Prize is awarded annually to the best published or produced literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under. Past winners include Fiona McFarlane, Max Porter, Joshua Ferris, Claire Vaye Watkins, Maggie Shipstead, and Rachel Trezise. In 2018, Kayo Chingonyi went home with the honours for his poetry collection Kumukanda.
The judging panel for 2021 was chaired by award-winning writer, publisher and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Namita Gokhale alongside founder and director of the Bradford Literature Festival, Syima Aslam, poet Stephen Sexton, writer Joshua Ferris and novelist and academic Francesca Rhydderch.
The longlist for the awards was announced on January 21 before the shortlist was made public on March 25 before the winner Raven Leilani’s novel Luster was made known. Leilani’s work has been published in Granta, The Yale Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, The Cut, and New England Review, among other publications. She received her MFA from NYU and was an Axinn Foundation Writer-in-Residence. Luster is her first novel.
Chair of Judges, Namita Gokhale, said: “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. We are delighted that 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.”
On receiving the prize, Raven Leilani said: “Very early in my life, Dylan Thomas’ work was an enormous comfort and inspiration to me, so this is an incredible honour and affirmation. When I first encountered his work, I was around twelve and just starting to write, and I remember taking one of his collections home from the library and trying to emulate his rhythm. I still have diaries full of those attempts, and I want to thank the judges, the readers, my family and friends, and my brilliant colleagues at Picador and Trident for their support. It means everything to me.”