The most influential prize for young writers, The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award, today announces its shortlist of authors, described as ‘immensely powerful’ by Chair of Judges Andrew Holgate, whilst the new Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, Johanna Thomas-Corr, praises the authors ‘who refuse to be bent into shape’. The judges have chosen:
- Stockport-born author and screenwriter Tom Benn, for his poignantly rendered exploration of domesticity and violence in Oxblood, which was longlisted for The Gordon Burn Prize 2022;
- Lucy Burns, a debut writer from Manchester, for her intimate memoir, Larger than an Orange, which examined the dichotomy between abortion as a political statement and an individual experience, and was selected as one of The Sunday Times Books of the Year 2021;
- London-born debut novelist Maddie Mortimer for Maps of our Spectacular Bodies, a lyrical and captivating look at mortality, desire and forgiveness, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2022;
- Oxford Fellow, Katherine Rundell, for the only non-fiction title on the shortlist and winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021, Super-Infinite, an illuminating and complex portrait of England’s greatest love poet, John Donne.
Sponsored by the Charlotte Aitken Trust, who enter their second year as sponsors of the prize, the award is given annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author of 35 or under.
This year ’s judges are spearheaded by the former Literary Editor of The Sunday Times Andrew Holgate, who remains as Chair of Judges, and the new Sunday Times Literary Editor, Johanna Thomas-Corr who are joined by critic and journalist Stig Abell, poet Mona Arshi, author Oyinkan Braithwaite, and novelist and earlier winner of the prize, Francis Spufford.
Johanna Thomas-Corr said: “You can’t help but admire four young writers who have taken huge risks with style, subject and form and who have set themselves free of publishing conventions. All of them have taken on unpromising subjects and produced works of great beauty and generosity that refuse to be bent into shape. These are books that you can read again and again – and still feel rewarded.”
Andrew Holgate said: “Four very strong voices and four immensely powerful books. This is a terrific shortlist, one that more than lives up to the great traditions of this prize and its mission to find and spotlight distinctive new voices that will flourish in the future. I feel very confident about the way forward for all of these authors, and choosing between them for the winner is going to be extremely difficult.”
Stig Abell said: “It is impossible to talk about writing by comparatively young people without sounding old and fusty and a bit envious. But the books we’ve picked are genuinely exciting and fresh; they are thought-provoking without being arch, and innovative without being annoying about it. The central thinking behind their selection is simple and what it should always be: they are great stories told in a way that lingers in the mind after you close the book.”
Mona Arshi said: “It was joyful to encounter each of these books and be introduced to four new exceptional voices entering the literary landscape. All four books this year are doing something new and exciting in the genres they travel in, they are such different books and what ultimately stood out for me was their attention to language as well as the originality of the ideas and forms they so meticulously explored.”
Oyinkan Braithwaite said: “The shortlist comprises a formidable selection of works that are ambitious, unorthodox, unflinching. They may vary wildly in subject matter and style, but each of them is an example of the expert finessing of language and form. The authors have certainly earned their place here.”
Francis Spufford said: “I’m delighted by the haul of treasures our shortlist represents. We’ve got non-fiction whose every sentence glitters with intelligence; life-writing that makes radical and heartfelt use of form; a crime novel that claims the richest and darkest of emotional territory; and a piece of literary innovation which plays its way to the limits of life and death. And just behind them, there was a mass of other lovely stuff we were sorry to have to leave out. On this showing, the future of writing is very strong – and incredibly various.”
Over the coming weeks, Granta will publish extracts from all four titles on granta.com.
With Cal Flyn, Jay Bernard, Raymond Antrobus, Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe as recent winners, the prize has spotted and supported an exceptional line-up of defining new voices since returning from a 7-year break in 2015, and its alumni list is a who’s who of the best British and Irish writing – from Robert Macfarlane to Zadie Smith, from Sarah Waters to Simon Armitage, from Naomi Alderman to Caryl Phillips and many others.
As it launches its upcoming season, the prize is working to extend its partnership network across the literary world. In its first year as the new sponsor, the Charlotte Aitken Trust increased the prize sum to £10,000 with each shortlistee receiving £1,000. This prize money will also remain as part of the winner package this year. The prize will also continue its work with retail partner Waterstones, as well as an international partnership with the British Council.
Waterstones, who were introduced as a partner in the 30th anniversary year in 2022, will be celebrating the shortlisted authors for 2022 with bespoke content across all of their channels, including an exclusive competition in their Waterstones Plus newsletter which reaches more than 1 million subscribers, and specially commissioned content for their blog, alongside instore POS to showcase this year ’s Young Writers.
Bea Carvalho, at Waterstones said: “The announcement of The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist marks an important moment in the year ’s literary calendar, and we are delighted to see the judges highlight another selection of spectacularly talented new writers. The award has helped to launch the careers of some of today’s brightest stars across fiction and non-fiction writing, and everyone at Waterstones is excited to see which of these brilliant four writers will be named this year ’s winner. They would all be very worthy champions.”
The British Council will be advocating the shortlisted authors to international audiences and helping them to forge new literary connections oversees.
Rachel Stevens, at British Council said: “I am delighted to see this exceptional shortlist which demonstrates with variety and flair the continuing strength of new writing in the UK today. As international partner, British Council looks forward to introducing the writers and their work to readers around the world.”
Details of a further enhanced digital and wider outreach programme will be announced in due course. The winner will be announced in a ceremony at a new venue on 14th March 2023.