Derek Owusu has won the Desmond Elliott Prize for his “transcendent” novel-in-verse That Reminds Me (#Merky Books).
His book, a semi-autobiographical tale of a British-Ghanaian boy called K, was picked as the best debut of the year, scooping the £10,000 prize.
Alongside the money, he will also get a tailored year-round platform of support and mentorship from the National Centre for Writing, which is running the prize for the first time this year as part of its new Early Career Awards portfolio.
The judging panel was chaired by author and previous Desmond Elliott Prize-winner Preti Taneja, alongside the Observer's Sonia Sodha, and writer Sinéad Gleeson.
Taneja said: “That Reminds Me is 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 that burns at the core of the book. 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 again and again.”
It saw off competition from a shortlist featuring The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (Sceptre) and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue).
Owusu is a writer, poet and podcaster from north London who, before turning his hand to fiction, collated, edited and contributed to Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space (Trapeze), an anthology of writing by 20 black British men. He was a co-host of the literature podcast "Mostly Lit" up until 2017.
The TV and film rights to Owusu’s second book with #Merky, Teaching My Brother to Read, have already been sold to Idris Elba’s production company, Green Door Pictures.
Also included in the new Early Career Awards portfolio is the University of East Anglia (UEA) New Forms Award for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction and the Laura Kinsella Fellowship which recognises an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances or is currently under-represented in literary fiction.
The UEA New Forms Award was awarded to Taylor Beidler, whose project explores non-traditional storytelling and aims to synthesise her work as a playwright, performance artist and creative non-fiction writer. The Laura Kinsella Fellowship was awarded to Michelle Perkins.
Beidler and Perkins will both receive £4,000 to support them at the beginning of their careers as well as a bespoke programme of support provided by the NCW, supported by Arts Council England. All three winners have also been invited to choose a selection of 10 books which NCW will gift to a library or school of their choice.
- Daré, Nzelu and Owusu shortlisted for 2020's Desmond Elliott Prize
- First #Merky Books novel makes Desmond Elliott Prize longlist
- Mostly Lit's Derek Owusu signs two-book deal with Stormzy imprint
- Radojevic and Zayyan win Stormzy's #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize
- Patel wins #Merky Books New Writers' Prize