‘A plethora of riches’ – celebrating writers of colour at the 2023 Society of Authors’ Awards
Jay Gao has today (29 June) won both an Eric Gregory Award and a Somerset Maugham Award this year for his thrilling debut poetry collection, Imperium (Carcanet Press). Through reimagined episodes from Homer’s Odyssey, Imperium asks questions about diaspora and how past lives permeate the present. It was described by judge Wayne Holloway Smith as ‘the work of a poet mind shot through with intellect and cultural capital’.
The Chinese Scottish poet is one of 13 writers of colour to share in the UK’s biggest literary prize fund, worth over £100k this year.
Eric Gregory Awards (worth £4,725 each and presented for poetry collections by writers under 30, were also presented to Princess Arinola Adegbite (P.A.Bitez), Mukahang Limbu, Momtaza Mehri and Helen Quah.
The powerful, ‘urgent and moving’ memoir None of The Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary (Canongate Books) by Travis Alabanza was a Somerset Maugham winner this year – a ‘testimony to the vicissitudes of living as a non-binary person of colour in modern Britain’ (Somerset Maugham judge Ardashir Vakil).
Somerset Maugham Awards (worth £2,700 each and presented published works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by writers under 30, to enable them to enrich their work by gaining experience of foreign countries) were also presented to Sussie Anie, Mya-Rose Craig, Gurnaik Johal and Moses McKenzie.
Aamina Ahmad has won the Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize for her novel The Return of Faraz Ali (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton), which was also shortlisted for this year’s McKitterick Prize. The Volcano Prize of £2,000, awarded for a novel which focuses on the experience of travel away from home, is in its second year.
Novelists Sulaiman Addonia and Anjali Joseph are among five writers awarded £1,600 Travelling Scholarships this year, designed to enable engagement with writers abroad.
The SoA Awards is an annual celebration of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and illustrated children’s books, made up of eleven prizes designed to reward authors at every stage of their careers – from debuts to lifetime achievement. The winners, featuring authors at all stages of their careers – from debut poets and novelists to well-established writers – will be celebrated this evening at the Society of Authors’ Awards ceremony atSouthwark Cathedral, generously sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).
The ceremony, presented by Joanne Harris with a keynote from Val McDermid to an audience of over 300 winners, judges and other authors, will be livestreamed from 7PM.
Commenting on winning both a Somerset Maugham and Eric Gregory Award, Jay Gao said:
It’s always an incredible feeling to know that one’s writing has been read with care and generosity, especially by the poets and writers who regularly inspire my own work. It really means a lot to be recognised as a small part of this broad and diverse creative community being celebrated through the Society of Authors. This support is important for me as, more than anything else, I know it will encourage me to keep writing.
Eric Gregory Awards judge Wayne Holloway Smith said:
It was a huge pleasure to be confronted by a varied and talented shortlist in this year’s awards. What this suggested for me was a new cohort of emerging voices with a keen sense of what’s at stake in this cultural moment, a willingness to engage with troubling and complex subject areas, and a largely self-reflexive capacity to interrogate the self. My own imagination and proficiency as a reader was stretched again and again.
Speaking about the Awards, keynote speaker Val McDermid said:
Awarded by authors, for authors, the SoA Awards hold a special place in the literary calendar. It is vital that we celebrate the work authors do to help us find meaning in tumultuous times, now more than ever. This year’s winners make that task easy. They have given us a plethora of riches: from sweeping novels, to searching poetry, to first works by exciting authors at the start of new careers. I hope each win fuels that joy of words that first gave birth to these many and various works.