Caleb Azumah Nelson wins Dylan Thomas Prize with ‘Small Worlds’

Caleb Azumah Nelson has clinched the prestigious Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize for his novel Small Worlds, per The award, announced at Swansea’s Taliesin Arts Centre on Thursday night, celebrates the best published literary work in the English language by authors aged 39 or under.

The British-Ghanaian author, 30, expressed his surprise at receiving the £20,000 prize. “I felt strangely calm before the show and now I’m just really in a total state of shock,” he remarked. “It’s really exciting to be here.” He planned to share the news first with his mother.

The Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize, established in 2006, honours the legacy of Swansea-born poet Dylan Thomas, who died at 39 in 1953. Nelson’s Small Worlds, his second novel, explores the intricate dynamics of a father-son relationship set against the contrasting backdrops of London and Ghana. 

Chair of the 2024 judges, Namita Gokhale, praised the novel as “viscerally moving and heartfelt with deeply realised characters.”

And here is what had to say about the book:

Using the narrator and his father, the author brilliantly explores parental expectations and the need for children to dance to the drum beats of their hearts.
Nelson explores how migration makes us lose our essence, leading us to settle for what we would not have at home. We are afraid of chasing our dreams because of the fear of failure. In exploring this, the book succeeds as one that will make us ask questions, critical questions about life and living.
Small Worlds, Azumah is less interested in plot. The book is character-driven. His evocative language makes up for what is lost by his decision to favour characters over plot. His diction and syntax come across as well-woven fabric.
 He is also not interested in fitting into a particular genre. The book is genre-bending: coming-of-age, contemporary, literary fiction and more. Elements of all these genres snake out from time to time. This genre-bending nature is likely going to make not a few readers wonder what the author is up to.
The author’s writing is lyrical and poetic and requires some patience to get into.  In many parts, it feels like soliloquy; a troubled soul talking to himself in order to find a way out of the quagmire that life has become.

The shortlist for this year’s prize included a diverse array of works: A Spell of Good Things by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Nigeria), The Glutton by A. K. Blakemore (England), Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan (Hong Kong), Local Fires by Joshua Jones (Wales) and Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (US).

Among the finalists, Joshua Jones, author of the short story collection Local Fires, shared his relief at the conclusion of the anxious wait. “It’s the biggest thing that’s happened to me in terms of my writing career and it is just incredible to be part of the experience,” he said.

The event featured readings from each of the shortlisted authors, showcasing a rich tapestry of voices and stories that captivated the audience.

•Featured image shows Caleb Azumah Nelson at the event/Swansea University


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