Winners of the inaugural Pontas & J J Bola Emerging Writers Prize announced

Winners of the inaugural Pontas & J J Bola Emerging Writers Prize announced

Musih Tedji Xaviere and Bhavika Govil are the joint winners of the first Pontas & J J Bola Emerging Writers Prize.

The prize was created this year for unagented, unpublished and underrepresented writers from Black, ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ and working-class backgrounds writing in English.

Tedji Xaviere, from Cameroon, is a writer and activist. Her novel For Fatima is a love letter to a long-lost friend, following the journey of a desperate young woman attempting to solve the mystery surrounding the sudden disappearance of her lover. It is a story about forbidden love and what it means to be lesbian and Muslim in Cameroon.

Govil, from India, is a writer, journalist and editor whose stories have been published in Vogue and Outlook Traveller, among other magazines. She won the Bound Short Story Prize in 2019, was longlisted for the Toto Awards for Creative Writing (English) 2021 and mentioned as a Notable Contender for the 2020 Bristol Short Story Prize. Her novel The Silent Treatment follows the lives of a morbid eight-year-old narrator, Mira, and her 12-year-old brother, Ashu, as they’re growing up in a conservative Indian society with an unconventional mother. Aiming to explore gender roles and the different forms love can take, the book is as much a novel about looking for the truth as it is about the poetry of childhood.

Both were awarded £1,000 to support their writing, as well as international representation and mentoring. They were chosen from 172 submissions for the prize. 

Judge, poet and writer Bola said: “The Emerging Writers Prize has been eye-opening in terms of the number of talented writers out there, with amazing stories to tell. The journey to choosing the winners has been incredibly difficult but very rewarding. The team at Pontas and myself wholeheartedly believe we have made the right choice. We are looking forward to supporting these writers in bringing their work to the world. And I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position to extend some luck to these writers, and provide support — as I was supported, as truly, no one ever makes it on their own.”

Fellow judge and literary agent Maria Cardona said: “It has been such a gratifying experience reading all the submissions for the prize. I cannot thank Musih Tedji Xaviere enough for submitting her novel to the prize. She is a powerhouse, and her voice is enticing and exciting in equal measures. She is a brave writer and her debut novel an important story to tell. As for Bhavika Govil, her opening paragraph and her overall lyrical style and voice on the page made me realise I was in front of a young author of enormous talent.”

The judges also included Selali Fiamanya as runner-up for the prize. Fiamanya is a writer born and raised in Glasgow, with a couple of years spent in Accra, Ghana. His debut novel Between the Train and the Platform is a patchwork of interconnected short stories set in a queer, diasporic Britain. 

The judges said the prize "has been an incredible experience" and that they are "committed" to continuing with the prize on a yearly basis.