2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize: Shortlist

By Wasafiri Editor on October 6, 2020 in Articles

Kadija Sesay (Chair), Simon Prosser (Fiction) (Photo credit: Sharron Wallace for Museum of Colour), Aida Edemariam (Life Writing), and Raymond Antrobus (Poetry) (Photo credit: Suki Dhada)


The shortlist of the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize has been announced, with five writers chosen in each of three categories: Fiction, Life Writing, and Poetry. The winners will be announced on 29 October at 1pm GMT, when prize judges Penguin editor Simon Prosser (Fiction), Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam (Life Writing), and prize-winning poet Raymond Antrobus (Poetry), as well as renowned publisher and editor Kadija Sesay (Chair), will announce and read from the winning entries.

The prize champions new writers, with no limits on age, gender, nationality or background. In 2020, the prize received over 1600 entries from 64 countries – a third of the countries in the world – in what was a record-smashing year, with entries increasing by over 50%. This means that the shortlisted writers are in the top less-than-1% of entrants; truly world-class new voices.

In choosing the shortlist for the prize, the judges commented that they were ‘looking for somebody who finds new words for old things.’ Aida Edemariam said, ‘I was looking for quality of insight, and a quality of noticing; a feeling that I’ve never looked at something in quite that way, but it feels true.’ Raymond Antrobus echoed, ‘You’re just looking for something that hasn’t been said in that way.’ Simon Prosser commented, ‘What I was looking for was that sense of surprise for the reader—when something is said in a new way or in a fresh voice, seen from a different perspective, or in a surprising light; when you feel a writer doing something special, with verve.’

The Shortlist: Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2020


Fiction judged by Simon Prosser

The Benevolence of a Raincoat                                     Veronique Bequin

Red                                                                                                Lola Olufemi

Friends from Home                                                           Aparna Surendra

How you make Jamaican coconut oil                                 Sharma Taylor

Holding On                                                                                   Adam Zmith


Life Writing judged by Aida Edemariam

Seamless                                                                               Sharanya Deepak

When you think I’m hurrying you but
you’re taking an eternity over every
damn thing                                                                     Minifreda Grovetszki

Egress                                                                                        Nauman Khalid

American Blue                                                                           Michael Malay

Slow motion                                                                                         Ellie Slee


Poetry judged by Raymond Antrobus

Dear Sabrina                                                                              Rebecca Baird

bone journey                                                                              Rupam  Baoni

Black Says                                                                                   Joshua Idehen

Cutting water                                                                           Emily Pritchard

Conventional Wisdom                                                              Yasmine Seale


Shortlisted pieces will be published on the Wasafiri website over the coming months, and every member of the shortlist will have a one-to-one meeting with Nikesh Shukla of The Good Literary Agency to discuss their work, their career progression, and how to get ready for submission to literary agencies. Winners will be published in Wasafiri and receive a prize of £1,000 each, as well as being offered the Chapter and Verse or Free Reads mentoring scheme in partnership with The Literary Consultancy (dependent on eligibility).

Follow us @WasafiriMag or sign up to our newsletter to find out when these works go live.

And join us for the announcement of the Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize, with readings of the winning pieces by the judges, at 1pm GMT on 29 October 2020.

The 2021 prize will open in January, and you can enter here.