Dylan Thomas Prize 2018 Shortlist.jpg

This year is the 10th anniversary for The Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize. It’s interesting how this book prize is open to writers from anywhere in the world writing in English who are aged 39 years or younger. Revered poet Dylan Thomas died when he was only 39 years old which is why this prize is intended to encourage young writers.

Last year’s winner was Fiona McFarlane for her book of short stories “The High Place”. I haven’t got to reading that yet, but I’m glad to see I’ve read all but one of the books that have been shortlisted for this year’s prize! It’s a very strong list (with the exception of Gwendoline Riley whose frequent shortlisting for various book prizes bewilders me. But, given how much this book has been lauded, it's probably me and not the novel, right?) However, I’m thrilled to see Carmen Maria Machado on the list whose extraordinarily inventive short stories I enjoyed reading so much recently. Also, it’s nice to see debut author Gabriel Tallent getting some recognition because “My Absolute Darling” is such a striking novel. The only poetry on the list is by Kayo Chingonyi whose writing so powerfully explores a dual sense of national identity. A prize of £30,000 will awarded to one of these six authors on May 10th.

I’m hoping to go see all of the shortlisted authors at an event which will be held at the British Library on May 8th – tickets are here if you’re interested.

Click on the below titles to see my full reviews of the books I’ve read. I’m hoping to get to reading Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel which I’ve heard such good things about.

Have you read any of these books and which one would you pick to win?

Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

cover.jpg

I bought a copy of this poetry collection when it first came out a few months ago, but its recent listing for the Costa Book Awards poetry category finally inspired me to pick it up. Kumukanda means initiation but since Kayo Chingonyi came of age in England rather than Zambia where he was born, he mostly records in these poems the rites of passage he goes through as a young black man in Britain. From cricket games to spending time in a Londis grocery store, these poems express his particular take on common experiences of modern English youth and the tributaries that fed into the creation of his particular identity.

Many of the poems describe Chingonyi’s affinity with music and especially his attachment and affection for cassette tapes. In one poem he writes “You say you love music. Have you suffered the loss of a cassette so gnarled by a tape deck’s teeth it refuses to play the beat you’ve come to recognise by sound and not name?” This invokes a real nostalgia not just for the music these tapes contained, but also the process of listening to this antiquated format. He observes how the static these tapes contained was part of the experience. One poem describes the background sounds which are accidentally recorded within tracks and how this can mentally transport the listener to the actual recording studio. These poems build to a sense of how music is a living commentary upon people’s lives and exists within the movement of time so that R&B artists work with “their lyrics written out on the backs of hands.”

There are references to musical influences from James Brown to Prince, but in some poems he also points to more complicated forms of broader song and dance imagery like Bojangles. This made me recall Zadie Smith’s most recent novel “Swing Time” for the way it describes a black individual in modern Britain contemplating racist imagery from the past and how that affects self-perception. Chingonyi describes in the title poem how he wonders what a version of himself that had been raised in Zambia would have thought of his British self. I admired how he describes in later poems that beyond any internal conflict of national or racial identity he recognizes a more fluid sense of being. In ‘Baltic Mill’ he describes a meeting point where it’s acknowledged “The exact course that brought us here is unimportant. It is that we met like this river, drawn from two sources, offered up our flaws, our sedimental selves.” I felt this worked in two different ways where it could describe two people meeting or someone reconciling different aspects of oneself as adding up to a unique individual.

This collection is a passionate and engaging take on one man’s coming of age.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesKayo Chingonyi