Desmond Elliott Prize 2020 Awarded to #Merky Author Derek Owusu

Image: Stuart Simpson/Penguin

London writer and poet Derek Owusu has been awarded the 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize for his debut novel That Reminds Me. The prize launched in 2007, recognising the best debut novels across the UK and Ireland. This year the prize was hosted for the first time by the National Centre for Writing as one of their Early Career Awards, which means that Owusu will win a package of support in the form of mentoring and residency opportunities alongside the established £10,000 accolade.

Defined by the Daily Telegraph as “the most prestigious prize for debut fiction”, the Desmond Elliott award aims to support new writers and celebrate their fiction, regardless of genre. Originally chosen from a long list of ten novels to appear on a shortlist of three, Owusu’s novel was selected as the winner by judges Sonia Sodha, Sinéad Gleeson, and previous winner Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young. That Reminds Me beat Abi Daré’s The Girl with the Louding Voice and Okechukwu Nzelu’s The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney.

A 128-page story in verse, That Reminds Me details the life of K through a raw narrative of his formative years. It deals with questions of identity, belonging, addiction, family, and religion in what is catalogued by many as a hard-hitting read.

The book is the first of a two-part deal that Owusu has with #Merky Books, and is the first title published by the imprint to have won a major literary prize. #Merky Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House’s William Heinemann division, was founded by British rapper and grime artist Stormzy. Their first publication was his book Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far in 2018.

The term ‘merky’ is understood to loosely refer to anything great, and this is reflected in the imprint’s dedication to publishing the fiction, non-fiction, and poetry of writers from underrepresented communities. Another big name secured by the publishing imprint is famed Noughts and Crosses author Malorie Blackman, and her autobiography is set to be released in 2022. 

Owusu’s success continues with the recent news that his second novel, Teaching My Brother to Read, has already had its film and television rights sold to Idris Elba’s production company, Green Door Pictures. 

Words by Ellie Robson

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