Derek Owusu wins Desmond Elliott Prize for his ‘profound’ literary debut.
Published by Stormzy’s imprint Merky Books, the book was described by judges of the £10,000 award as a “transcendent work of literature”. The semi-autobiographical novel follows a British-Ghanaian boy, K, as he passes through different foster homes. It explores identity, sexuality, mental health and abuse as K moves from the Suffolk countryside to inner-city London. Owusu began writing it while he was in a mental health facility, creating the character of K to help him understand the breakdown he was going through. Poet Benjamin Zephaniah has described Owusu’s writing as “honest, moving, delicate, but tough”. Chair of the judging panel, author and previous winner Preti Taneja said the novel was “written with a rare style that wrings pure beauty from every painful, absurd moment K must face”. “Despite the terrors around him, this young black man has an instinctive love for the world which burns at the core of the book,” said Taneja. “The judges and I were as shattered by the truths of the story as we were moved by the talent of its writer. Derek Owusu has given us a unique, profound and transcendent work of literature: we want as many readers as possible to discover it – once they do they will return to it again and again.” Owusu beat an all-black shortlist of writers to the prize, with The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu also in the running. As well as the £10,000 prize money, he wins a year of support from the National Centre for Writing, which has taken over the running of the award this year. The prize, for a first novel written in English and published in the UK, was set up in 2007 as the bequest of literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott, “in memory of his passion for discovering and nurturing emerging authors”. Text excluding title courtesy The Guardian