Winners of the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize announced

The winners of the Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2020 include authors from Barbados, India and Turkey.

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The Wasafiri New Writing Prize champions new writers
The Wasafiri New Writing Prize champions new writers

Judges Simon Prosser (Fiction), Aida Edemariam (Life Writing), and and Raymond Antrobus (Poetry) decided the winners who will receive prizes of £1,000.

Based at Queen Mary University of London, Wasafiri is the UK’s leading magazine for international contemporary writing. The Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019.

The prize champions new writers, with no limits on age, gender, nationality or background. In 2020 the prize received record submissions, more than 1600 entries, from 64 countries, representing an increase in entries of more than 50 per cent. 

"It was so interesting, considering everything that’s happening in the world, to be in that privileged position of seeing where people’s minds are at, what people are writing," said poet Raymond Antrobus of judging the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize.

The prize winners, new writers who have yet to publish a full-length work in their chosen genre, were announced on 29 October, and in addition to their prizes, will receive mentoring and publication. The judges praised the global range of the prize, as well as the sheer variety of styles, calling the work they read striking, fresh, and exciting.

Dr Malachi McIntosh, Editor and Publishing Director of Wasafiri said: "The New Writing prize surprises us in some way every year. The breadth and range of the submissions, the uniqueness of the subject matter, and the level of skill of the writers are perennial treats, but this year, the biggest surprise – delight – was the sheer number of nationalities represented. It’s long been our aspiration for this to be a truly global competition, and in 2020 we saw the prize get even closer to its goal of being for all people, from all backgrounds, from all over the world."

The winners of the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize are:

  • Fiction: Sharma Taylor (Barbados) ‘How You Make Jamaican Coconut Oil’

Framed as a recipe, this story’s beguilingly playful opening sets the scene for a compassionate, nuanced portrait of family life. "With enormous vigour and zest and skill it introduces you to a voice, to a setting, to a family, and it does it absolutely beautifully" said fiction judge and Penguin editor Simon Prosser. "This story just totally leapt at me and gripped me from the first moment; congratulations, Sharma, I’d love to read more of your writing," he added.

  • Life Writing: Sharanya Deepak (India) ‘Seamless’

"The thing about this winner, is it repays rereading. Every time you read it you can see something slightly different in it. A reflection on the aftermath of traumatic experience, this account slowly but meticulously builds momentum through careful attention to moments in everyday life. The insights seemed hard-won, both in life and in writing," said Life Writing judge and Guardian writer and editor Aida Edemariam. "It was quiet but it stuck in my mind as saying something important and true," she added.

  • Poetry: Yasmine Seale (Turkey) ‘Conventional Wisdom’

"This ‘playful, detached yet joyful’ poem purports to be an Arabic saying translated twenty ways; but more than translations, its twenty lines unfold a series of ‘remixes of meaning’" says Poetry judge Raymond Antrobus. "When I read this poem it got me asking myself questions I’d never asked before, and that’s one hallmark of a good poem. It’s in conversation with you, it’s challenging you to think more about history, to think more about language, to think more about who we are. This poem does all of that, and with such joy and skill and originality."

The following writers were also commended:

  • Adam Zmith ‘Holding on’ (Fiction)
  • Minifreda Grovetszki ‘When you think I’m hurrying you but you’re taking an eternity over every damn thing’ (Life Writing)
  • Emily Pritchard ‘Cutting water’ (Poetry)

Shortlisted pieces will be published on the Wasafiri website over the coming months. Every member of the shortlist will have a one-to-one meeting with Nikesh Shukla of The Good Literary Agency to discuss their work, their career progression, and how to get ready for submission to literary agencies

The 2021 prize will open in January.

About Wasafiri

Wasafiri is Britain’s leading magazine of international contemporary literature. Launched in 1984, Wasafiri is committed to discovering, supporting, and showcasing the full breadth of literary voices on all points of the globe.

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