Sally Rooney has been awarded the 2017 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick for her fearless, sensual novel Conversations With Friends (Faber & Faber), at a special ceremony in The London Library on the evening of Thursday, 7th December. Acclaimed as a remarkably fresh, clever and self-assured novel, Conversations With Friends has been one of the biggest debuts of 2017, and Rooney’s writing has been compared with that of JD Salinger and Bret Easton Ellis. 26-year-old Rooney, born in the west of Ireland and now living in Dublin, is the first Irish winner in the twenty-seven year history of this prestigious award and joint youngest winner with Zadie Smith (White Teeth, 2001).
The intimate story of high-risk relationships, youth and love was shortlisted for the award alongside four other writers, rather than the usual three, as a testament to the strength of submissions this year. Featuring two other novels, a collection of linked short stories and a biography, the shortlist showcased the extraordinary breadth of young British and Irish writing: Minoo Dinshaw’s debut Outlandish Knight is the biography of the great and strange British historian Steven Runciman; with The End of the Day, Claire North has written a novel of life, death and everything in between; The Lucky Ones, Julianne Pachico’s debut collection of stories, mostly set in Columbia, brings together the fates of guerrilla soldiers, rich kids, rabbits and drug dealers; and The Lauras by Sara Taylor, whose first novel was shortlisted for the award in 2015, explores identity and relationships, set against a rolling backdrop of the North American landscape.
This year’s prize was judged by the award-winning novelist and political commentator Elif Shafak and the acclaimed cultural historian and biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett alongside The Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate, who said: ‘Choosing this year’s winner from five such outstanding writers was immensely difficult, but for line by line quality, emotional complexity, sly sophistication and sheer brio and enjoyment, Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends really stood out. To have produced a novel which nods all the way back to Jane Austen’s Emma, while being so thoroughly modern in feel, is quite something, and Rooney proves herself with this debut to be a really worthy addition to the extraordinary list of past winners of the Young Writer Award.’
Elif Shafak said: ‘From the very beginning till the end, it has been a fascinating journey to judge this prize and spot upcoming literary stars across disciplines and genres. We are very proud of our shortlist – diverse, powerful and utterly exciting. And even though it has not been easy at all to let go of such a shortlist, Sally Rooney’s extraordinary debut, Conversations With Friends, quickly won our hearts and our votes. I salute Rooney’s intelligent prose, lucid style, and fierce intensity – all of which will stay with the readers even long after they have finished reading this wonderful book.’
Lucy Hughes-Hallett said: ‘It was never going to be easy to chose our winner from such a strong shortlist. Young they may be, but all of these writers are mature talents with distinctive voices and bold imaginations. This book stood out for its glittering intelligence, its formal elegance and its capacity to grip the reader. At first reading II was looking forward to bus journeys so that I could read some more. Second time round I was still delighted by the sophistication of its erotic quadrille.’