Literary agent Catherine Cho is in the running to be named 2020 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year for her "powerful" memoir, alongside the authors of two novels and two poetry collections.
Cho, who works in publishing at Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency in London, is shortlisted for her memoir Inferno (Bloomsbury), an account of her experience with postpartum psychosis, exploring relationships and motherhood.
Meanwhile, Irish writer Naoise Dolan competes with her Hong Kong-set debut novel Exciting Times (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and Marina Kemp, from London, with her first novel Nightingale (4th Estate), centred on a live-in nurse in rural France.
Dublin-based poet Seán Hewitt vies for the prize with his mythical debut collection Tongues of Fire (Jonathan Cape), containing prayers, hymns, vespers and incantations next to longer poems, and Jay Bernard for their first full collection, Surge (Chatto & Windus), on the New Cross fire of 1981, in which 13 young black people were killed.
The shortlist was arrived on by a judging panel chaired by Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate and comprising novelist Sebastian Faulks, short-story writer and novelist Tessa Hadley, novelist Kit de Waal, and literary critic Houman Barekat. Sponsored by the University of Warwick, the prize is each year given to "the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author of 35 or under".
Barekat commented: "Shortlists don’t have to be eclectic, but it’s nice when they are. There is something here for everyone: Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times has a very contemporary fizz, whereas the careful pacing of Marina Kemp’s Nightingale will appeal to readers of more conventional novels, the collage aesthetic of Jay Bernard’s Surge complements the more traditional lyricism of Seán Hewitt’s Tongues of Fire, while Catherine Cho’s illness memoir Inferno is a powerful work of non-fiction."
De Waal and Faulks said they were impressed by the range of technical ability shown by the writers. "They have absorbed the lessons of those who have gone before them; but their own books all seem urgent and modern," said Faulks. De Waal added: "It’s been a privilege to read their work and to have been immersed in their worlds."
Hadley said: “The books stand out because they’re so well written, with important things to say—and the wonderful thing is that they have nothing in common apart from that. Each book is its own kingdom, an exciting new world to discover, with its own style and its own subject. Each is authoritative, intelligent, with clear vision, and sets its own rules.”
Granta will publish extracts from all five titles on granta.com this week.
Last year's winner was Raymond Antrobus for his debut The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins), while other recent alumni include Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe.
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