PRH dominates Costa Book Awards as Azumah Nelson and Fuller win categories

PRH dominates Costa Book Awards as Azumah Nelson and Fuller win categories

Penguin Random House has dominated the Costa Book Awards 2021 category winners, with two Viking authors among the victors—Caleb Azumah Nelson and John Preston—along with Fig Tree's Claire Fuller and Manjeet Mann, with only Bloodaxe Books' Hannah Lowe preventing a clean sweep.  

Category winners, each of whom receive £5,000, were selected from a bumper 934 entries and revealed on 4th January on BBC Radio 4's “Front Row”. One of the titles will be named Costa Book of the Year on 1st February, winning £30,000.

British-Ghanaian writer and photographer Azumah Nelson has won the First Novel Award for Open Water (Viking), which tells the story of two young Black artists trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. The judges said the book was "deeply moving, searingly intimate and just so now", adding: "We all loved this contemporary portrait of masculinity—it’s like nothing else we’ve ever read."

Preston's Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell was the second win for Viking, scooping the Biography Award. The book is described as the "definitive account of Maxwell's extraordinary rise and scandalous fall" and is also being adapted for television by Working Title. The judges described it as "an epic, immersive, cinematic telling of an extraordinary life and our unanimous winner".

Fuller won this year's Novel Award for her fourth book Unsettled Ground (Fig Tree), which tells the story of twins Jeanie and Julius, who at 51 years old still live with their mother on the fringes of society in rural poverty. The judges praised the book as a "masterpiece of storytelling and craft".

Actor, playwright, screenwriter, director and charity founder Mann won the Children’s Book Award for her second book The Crossing (Penguin), a verse novel about two teenagers from opposite worlds inspired by hope, grief and the very real tragedies of the refugee crisis; it was heralded by the judges as "a brilliant book" which "will enrich all who read it".

Poet and university lecturer Lowe snapped up the Poetry Award with her third collection, The Kids (Bloodaxe Books), which contains sonnets drawing on a decade of teaching in an inner-city London sixth-form during the Noughties, as well as her own experiences as a teenager and a mother. The judges described the work as a "page-turner about the experience of teaching and being taught, it made us want to punch the air with joy."

Jill McDonald, c.e.o. of Costa Coffee, said: "We’re celebrating a milestone 50th anniversary year for the Costa Book Awards, and the range and breadth of this year’s category winners illustrates the awards’ longstanding appeal, as the home of enjoyable reads to suit all tastes. Congratulations to all this year’s category award-winning authors."

The winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be selected by a panel of judges chaired by journalist Reeta Chakrabarti and comprising category judges Jessie Burton, Rishi Dastidar, Xiaolu Guo, Smriti Halls and Andrew Wilson. They are joined by writer and broadcaster Damian Barr, tennis coach Judy Murray, and Melanie Sykes, broadcaster and editor-in-chief of Frank Magazine. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony hosted by Penny Smith on 1st February.

Last year's Costa Book of the Year was The Mermaid of Black Conch (Peepal Tree) by Monique Roffey.

The winner of the Costa Short Story Award is voted for by the public and will also be announced at February’s ceremony. Voting is open until 14th January, until which time the identity of the three shortlisted authors remains anonymous.