Zambian-British poet wins the 2018 Dylan Thomas Prize

Zambian-British poet, Kayo Chingonyi, has emerged winner of the 2018 Dylan Thomas Prize for his full-length poetry collection, Kumukanda. The prize sum is £30,000, and Kayo is the first British poet to win the award.

Established in 2006 in honour of the 20th century Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, the prize is international and hosted by Swansea University, Wales, and is awarded annually to “the best literary work published in the English Language, written by an author aged 39 or under.” “The prize celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama.”

Panel of judges for this year included: Namita Gokhale (Indian writer, publisher and festival director), Kurt Heinzelman (poet, translator and professor), Paul McVeigh (short story writer and novelist), Rachel Trezise (short story writer, novelist and playwright), and Dai Smith (writer, historian, broadcaster and professor).

Chair of the judging panel, Dai Smith, spoke about this year’s win: “Kayo Chingonyi has an original and distinctive voice and this collection, mature and moving, shows a young poet mastering form in various ways to reveal content which is both personal and immensely relevant to the social dilemmas of Britain today.”

Previous winners of the International Dylan Thomas Prize include: Rachel Trezise in 2006, Nam Le in 2008, Elyse Fenton in 2010, Lucy Caldwell in 2011, Maggie Shipstead in 2012, Claire Vay Watkins in 2013, Joshua Ferris in 2014, Max Porter in 2016, and Fiona McFarlane in 2017.

Published in 2017 by Chatto & Windus (an imprint at Penguin Random House UK), Kumukanda has been praised as “an intricate and intense collection, heady with feeling but guided by thoughtful reflection.

Speaking about his win, Kayo said: “I’m staggered. It’s wonderful to receive an award in the name of Dylan Thomas, whose work was introduced to me by a really inspirational teacher by the name Rachel Baroni who introduced me to Under Milk Wood and I’ve been fascinated by his work since then. I want to take a moment to thank my teachers who gave me confidence to continue writing the poems I was writing just for myself. It’s through the kind of inspiration of those people in my life that I continue to write and follow it through, and now poetry is the centre of my life, and there’s no sense in which writing couldn’t be part of life. I’m very grateful.”

In a recent interview with The Guardian, 31-year-old Kayo spoke about his influences and his poetic drives. He said, “A lot of what I write is embedded in my wanting to share enthusiasms.”

A very moving line from one of Kayo’s poems says: “nobody knows how to sing anymore”.