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Colm Tóibín announces the winner of the 2021 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award

The winner of the 2021 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award is Mathelinda Nabugodi for The Trembling Hand: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive (non-fiction). This was announced today Tuesday 7th December on social media and at Colm Tóibín (Chair of the Judges) introduced the shortlisted authors and then announced the winner who will receive the prize of £10,000. The two runners-up are Yasmine Awwad for The Shrills and Sophie Meadows for The Frog. Both titles are works of fiction and each author will receive £1,000.

Colm Tóibín, Deepa Anappara, Anna James and Ingrid Persaud, the judges of the 2021 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, made their shortlist selection from a longlist of twelve. This longlist was chosen by agents within Rogers Coleridge & White, after reading a staggering 983 entries.

The winner Mathelinda Nabugodi is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge where she researches the literary archive of Percy Bysshe Shelley. She is one of the editors of The Poems of Shelley and has published articles on his poetry and translations as well as on the work of Walter Benjamin. She is the first person to be awarded a PhD in Creative Critical Writing from University College London. Her next archival exploration will be at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where she is set to take up a short-term fellowship in the coming year.

Mathelinda Nabugodi says on winning the award:

‘Winning the DRF Writers Award is such a wonderful validation of my work. I am so gratified to know that my attempt to stage a fresh and honest encounter with the Romantic archive has resonated with the judges and all the prize readers.’

Colm Tóibín, Chair of the Judges, comments:

‘There was a genuine excitement in finding these new voices, these different and ingenious ways of approaching narrative. What was apparent in each of the twelve longlisted writers was an energy in the way characters and events were dramatized. The settings and the forms used were various, but what was constant was a commitment to getting it right and making it new. Thus, the time I spent reading these writers of the future was enjoyable and uplifting.

We were not looking for anything predetermined, just the excitement that comes from command of rhythm and tone, or from pacing and plot, or from strength of voice.

The three shortlisted writers could not have been more different. THE SHRILLS by Yasmine Awwad created an atmosphere that was edgy, exciting and totally credible. The domestic conflict had an aura that was intimate and fierce; the scenes when the young women began to live the lives they dreamed of had great energy.

Sophie Meadows’ THE FROG dealt also with restriction and freedom, also with parents and their daughter. But this novel is set in Elizabethan England; it established its period with flair and careful detail. It also set up areas of conflict and possibility that open space for drama as the novel unfolds.

In the end, the award went to Mathelinda Nabugodi for THE TREMBLING HAND: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive because of its ambition and scope, but also because of the quality of the enquiring voice in the book, a voice sometimes tentative and searching, then sure of its scholarship, then puzzled by some large absence in the archive, then engrossed by a poem, an essay, a letter. All the time, that voice made the reader become engaged both emotionally and intellectually in the quest to re-see and re-imagine and re-read the past.’    

Deepa Anappara, Judge, comments:

‘Reading the longlist of twelve entries, I was struck by the diversity of voices and the skill with which the writers combined deft characterisation with narrative urgency. The winning entry, THE TREMBLING HAND, is an engaging and fascinating work of non-fiction that offers a vital and original perspective on Romanticism. The two shortlisted novels, THE FROG and THE SHRILLS, stood out for their propulsive narratives and memorable characters. My congratulations to the winner, the shortlisted and longlisted writers, and all the entrants. It was a pleasure and honour to read these works-in-progress.’

Anna James, Judge, comments:

‘Judging the DRF Prize has been such a joy and a privilege. The longlisted entries had such a breadth of ideas and voices and styles, and it was a wonderful experience to discuss with Colm, Ingrid and Deepa what makes a piece of writing special. I’m delighted with our shortlist and our winner - something original, timely and brilliantly written. I can’t wait to read the finished book.’

Ingrid Persaud, Judge, comments:

‘Judging the DRF Writers Award was a daunting task. The longlisted writers challenged themselves and us as readers by their subject matter and voice and I know we will hear more from all of them. Our winner, Mathelinda Nabugodi’s non-fiction work is original and urgent. I cannot wait to read the final text of THE TREMBLING HAND.’

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

'Deborah Rogers was never more excited than when she had discovered an extraordinary new voice and would have been thrilled to read the work of these three talented writers at the beginning of their careers. The notable success of the previous finalists of the 2016, 2018 and 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award has already brought distinction and renown to the Foundation. We are confident that the talented winners here tonight will enhance and continue that trajectory and we send them our very best wishes as they embark on their careers.'

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