2 months on from the previous post, the first ever semester of Swansea Universities’ International Dylan Thomas Prize Module has come to an end. The excitement surrounding this module did not die with the handing in of final assignments however! We were all invited to the prize ceremony to meet the shortlisted authors, attend the ceremony’s proceedings and experience the announcement of the winner first hand. As you may have already heard, the official shortlist, slightly differing from what us students selected, is as follows:
Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Folk, Zoe Gilbert
In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne
Trinity, Louisa Hall
Melmoth, Sarah Perry
House of Stone, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
The winner of the £30,000 prize was none other than Guy Gunaratne with his novel that spins a tale of three young boys in London, navigating the mad streets of London following the killing of a British soldier. Focusing on the pace of the city, using a ‘road’ dialect throughout and referring to the music of grime throughout grounds the audience in contemporary London, subjecting us to reality of Islamophobia and how radicalism breeds radicalism on all sides of the religious and social spectrum. Gunaratne and his novel are totally deserving of the title of winner of The International Dylan Thomas Prize.
On the other hand, the awards were not only limited to this, as Swansea Universities DylanED programme awarded prizes to writers both aged 16-18 as well as the students on Swansea University. The competition awarded these young budding writers for the outstanding reviews they wrote on any of the shortlisted texts. This programme not only encourages the reading of all these great books, but asks the individuals to write critically, engaging with the texts and their impact on the world. This is the essence of the module: spreading the love of literature and reminding others of the state and history of this world we all inhabit.
Before all this, we did need to put the work in for our final essay. Taking the form of a classic comparative essay, we were among the first to write critically not only about the texts on the longlist, but about the literary world they exist in. My essay in particular was based on the importance of context, historical, political and social. With each of the books nominated for the prize grounding themselves in context, by writing about life experiences, taking inspiration from the #MeToo movement, and engaging with their nation’s brutal history, I decided to compare two collections of short stories, Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black and Clare Fishers’ How the Light Gets In. Friday Black takes fire at America, sometimes quite literally, presenting the United States as a nation divided by racially motivated racial crime, particularly in ‘The Finklestein 5’ and ‘Zimmerland’, that is dismissed with the excuse of ‘I was protecting my property and family’. The story sharing the same name as the collection, ‘Friday Black’ depicts the dark side of working in the retail industry, exhibiting American shoppers as ravenous beasts, infecting others with the disease of consumerism on a day where capitalism is celebrated by measuring a person’s will to beat down others to own the biggest television. Fisher instead writes short stories that span, at most, 4 pages. Documenting what it means to live in contemporary Britain, a kingdom dominated by technology, ‘the light’ in How the Light Gets In is portrayed as both a positive and negative aspect of society. ‘The light’ is the reality that exists outside of our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram timelines, forcing us to engage with one another, taking us out of the sweet sedation social media and technology has granted us. The set of stories ‘Dark Places to Watch Out For’ serve as reminders to avoid the metaphorical dark places our mind wonders to when we are without ‘the light’ for an extended period of time. There has to be a balance however, for we are not human without dark places and cracks ‘the light’ can seep into and out of. Fisher’s writing is a call for all to recognise the context of their own lives, asking us to reflect on our engagements with others both in person and via our phones. My essay not only prompted discussion into how dependable these texts are on their contexts, but how their representations of the world should be recognised within the literary canon, along with books that reflect the world to inspire change for the better. Harold Bloom, author of The Literary Canon, writes that a book can only make its way into the canon by “demand[ing] rereading”. Times have now changed, as I believe these books promote rereading to serve as reminders to change a current destructive course people may find themselves on, but also serve as historical texts that detail a world that once was.
Swansea University’s International Dylan Thomas module has encouraged every member of the class to engage with new texts as well as new ways of approaching research. The work may have been challenging, but the rewards of such hard work were well and truly reaped. I have a new founded appreciation for literary prizes, as these books represent the true beauty of literature. They tell compelling stories, create convincing characters and generate representations of our world that should be discussed by the masses.
Words by Jacob Fleming