Monika Radojevic and Hafsa Zayyan triumphed at the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, following more than 1,200 entries.
The winners were revealed at ‘Penguin Presents’ on Thursday (6th June) at the London Palladium as part of PRH UK’s annual celebration of its authors, their forthcoming books and the importance reading.
The award was launched in March by #Merky Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House's William Heinemann division with grime artist Stormzy, to “promote the stories that aren’t being heard” from aspiring writers.
Presenting the awards on stage, Stormzy said: “I’d love if in the future it becomes a prestigious prize. The standards have been so high that the judges found it difficult to find one winner but award two exceptional young writers.”
He added: “Thank you for applying, because the new writers’ prize is a very new thing, so I’m proud you guys had the confidence to apply. A lot of talented people don’t fulfil their potential, they are so talented but they sit on it. I call it the beautiful shame. But you guys have the confidence to write, to do something about it, and that’s amazing.”
Both writers have won representation from The Good Literary Agency and a publishing contract with #Merky Books.
Radojevic was selected for her poetry collection 23 and Me which “paint a story of the joys, the confusions and the moments of sadness behind having one’s history scattered around the globe, and the way in which your identity is always worn on your skin, whether you like or not,” award organisers said.
Meanwhile Zayyan was recognised for her novel We Are All Birds of Uganda which follows 26-year-old Sameer, the son of penniless refugees who goes on to Cambridge University and then a job with a six-figure salary at one of London’s top city firms. His world collides with Ugandan-born Hasan following a chance encounter. It is a story “about generational and racial divides and the meaning of sacrifice, success, loyalty and love”.
Monika Radojevic and Hafsa Zayyan (credit: Riaz Pirmohamed)
The winners were chosen, from a 20-strong shortlist, by a panel of judges including Stormzy, poet Kayo Chingonyi, writer Yrsa Daley-Ward, author and agent Nikesh Shukla of The Good Literary Agency and Cornerstone m.d. Susan Sandon.
Sandon revealed the team had been “overwhelmed” by the response to the prize, which is run in collaboration with The Good Literary Agency and First Story, with an “extremely high standard of entries”.
“Hafsa Zayyan and Monika Radojevic are certainly among the best writers of a new generation, and I cannot wait to see their books come into the world,” she said.
Radojevic is currently completing her Masters in Development Studies. Half-Brazilian and half-Montenegrin, the London-born author explores concepts of belonging and identity in her work.
She said: “Winning the first #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize feels absolutely amazing, because it has shown me that people can connect with the story I have to tell. It has given me a platform for my voice to be heard in a way that I have never before experienced.”
Zayyan was born to a Nigerian father and Pakistani mother, and has lived in several different countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, before her family settled in the UK. Her work features themes such as identity, culture, race, religion and family.
Commenting on her win, Zayyan said: “Having entered the competition knowing very little about the publishing industry, the New Writers’ Prize has shown me that opportunities to have your work recognised really do exist. I am so grateful − and so excited − to have been given the opportunity to tell a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time.”