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Announcing the Winner of the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award

The winner of the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award is ‘Pemi Aguda for The Suicide Mothers, a work of fiction. Ian Rankin OBE (Chair of the Judges) introduced the shortlisted authors and then announced the winner who will receive the prize of £10,000.

‘Pemi Aguda accepted her award via video:

In second place was Stephen Buoro for The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa and in third place S. Bhattacharya-Woodward for Zolo and Other Stories. Both titles are works of fiction. The authors will each receive £1,000.

Ian Rankin, Sarah Perry and Max Porter, the judges of the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, made their shortlist selection from a longlist of eight. This longlist was chosen by agents within Rogers Coleridge & White, after reading a staggering 876 entries.

The winner ‘Pemi Aguda is from Lagos, Nigeria. She has an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan, where she is currently a Zell Fellow. Her short stories appear in Granta, American Short Fiction and Zoetrope: All-Story, among others.

Ian Rankin, Chair of the Judges, comments:

“We had a longlist of eight from which to choose. All eight had their strengths. We encountered a series of unique and powerful authorial voices from many corners of the globe. As a reader I found myself challenged, enthralled, amused and given fresh insights into the casts of characters and their individual worldscapes.

There must, however, be winners. And in third place we selected ZOLO AND OTHER STORIES by S.Bhattacharya-Woodward. These short stories were humane, quirky and moving. They look with intensity at contemporary urban life, focussing on the good as well as the bad.

In second place we chose THE FIVE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES OF ANDY AFRICA by Stephen Buoro. This novel exudes a wonderfully vivid sense of place and leads the reader inside the head of its teenage hero as he sets off to locate his “real” mother. It’s a narrative of depth that also manages to be instantly engaging.

And to our winner: first prize goes to ‘Pemi Aguda for THE SUICIDE MOTHERS. This novel begins with a real wow moment and sustains momentum as it draws us into a world that is utterly contemporary yet has room for the mythic and the supernatural. The politics of Lagos, environmental concerns and the coming of age of the young and pregnant protagonist make for a wonderfully kinetic and gripping story.

It was a pleasure to read all the longlisted works. My congratulations go to the entrants and especially the three prizewinners. I don’t doubt that the whole longlist has a bright future in literary endeavour, and I congratulate them.”

Sarah Perry, Judge, comments:

“It was such a privilege and a pleasure to be involved in judging this year's prize. The longlist showed a wonderful range of imagination, talent and skill, and it was especially exciting to read work coming from all over the world, and drawing on an enormous range of influences. Our winner, THE SUICIDE MOTHERS, is a tremendously gripping novel which I'm sure will reach a wide audience, and both our shortlistees show such talent and promise I look forward very much to seeing their names on the shelves before long.”

Max Porter, Judge, comments:

“I felt a degree of trepidation beginning this process, given the outstanding track record of the Writers Prize with its first two Awards, and my fondness towards the prize's namesake, as well as my fellow judges. What if we don't find a good winner? What if the quality of the entries isn't up to scratch? Such concerns became laughable in the opening sentences of the book we eventually chose as a winner, and again in each of the longlisted entries. The prize has attracted literary work of the highest calibre and it was a pleasure to read such good work in progress.”

Gill Coleridge, Director of the Deborah Rogers Foundation, comments:

“We have once again been very excited to discover three extraordinary new voices representing the best of new contemporary writing and feel privileged to read their work at the beginning of their careers. The great success of the previous winners of the 2016 and 2018 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award has already brought distinction and renown to the Foundation and we are confident that the talented winners here tonight will enhance and continue that trajectory.”

The shortlisted authors:


‘Pemi Aguda is from Lagos, Nigeria. She has an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan, where she is currently a Zell Fellow. Her short stories appear in Granta, American Short Fiction and Zoetrope: All-Story, among others.


Stephen Buoro is the 2018 recipient of the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and a First-Class degree in Mathematics. He is currently studying for a PhD in Creative-Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia on a fully funded studentship. His research examines the limitations of realism in depicting the African experience, as well as ‘suprarealistic’ forms such as Afrofuturism.


S. Bhattacharya-Woodward is a writer from London. She won 3rd Prize in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2019; was shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize in 2018; and longlisted for the Commonwealth and London Short Story prizes in 2019. She is also an award-winning science and health journalist, and recently completed an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award longlisted authors

2. S. Bhattacharya-Woodward - ZOLO AND OTHER STORIES
5. Kate Ellis - HAPPY SWIMMERS
6. Aisling Flynn - FOX TEETH
7. Helen Longstreth - THINGS IN EVERY ROOM
8. Sydney Weinberg - WEEK OF THE BIRDS

The Judges

Ian Rankin OBE is the internationally bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus and Detective Malcolm Fox novels, as well as a string of standalone thrillers. His books have been translated into thirty-six languages and are bestsellers on several continents. Ian is the recipient of four CWA Dagger Awards and in 2004 won America’s celebrated Edgar Award. He is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews, Hull and Edinburgh, and received the OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. The Essex Serpent was a number one bestseller in hardback, Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, and the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2017. Her most recent novel, Melmoth, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas prize. Her work has been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Norwich.

Max Porter’s first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers won the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been sold in twenty-nine territories. His second novel Lanny was a Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller and has sold in twenty-two territories. Max was previously editorial director at Granta, where his authors included Eleanor Catton, Han Kang and Rebecca Solnit. He now lives in Bath with his family.

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