Stormzy announces winners of his #Merky books prize – ‘A lot of talented people don’t fulfil their potential but you guys had the confidence to do it’

Two writers have been selected as co-winners of Stormzy’s brand new books prize, launched in March by Stormzy and Penguin Random House to “promote the stories that aren’t being heard”.

Monika Radojevic and Hafsa Zayyan were announced as co-winners of the first #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize. Both writers will receive representation from The Good Literary Agency and a publishing contract with #Merky Books. The prize is run in collaboration with First Story.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges including Stormzy, award-winning poet Kayo Chingonyi, author and poet Yrsa Daley-Ward, writer and agent Nikesh Shukla of The Good Literary Agency and Susan Sandon, Managing Director at Penguin Random House UK.

Kayo Chingonyi said: “Reading for the prize felt like being given a vision of the future.”  and Yrsa Daley-Ward said she was: “floored and so inspired by the talent”.

Monika Radojevic won the award for her poetry collection 23 and Me. She said: “Winning the first #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize feels absolutely amazing, because it has shown me that people can connect with the story I have to tell. It has given me a platform for my voice to be heard in a way that I have never before experienced.”

It was like being given a vision of the future

Hafsa Zayyan, whose novel We Are All Birds of Uganda won the award said: “Winning the New Writers’ Prize is really a dream come true − a dream I’ve had since I was a young child to one day have a book I’ve written be published. Having entered the competition knowing very little about the publishing industry, the New Writers’ Prize has shown me that opportunities to have your work recognised really do exist. I am so grateful − and so excited − to have been given the opportunity to tell a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time.”

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Stormzy said: “The new writers’ prize is a very new thing, so I’m proud you guys had the confidence to apply. A lot of talented people don’t fulfil their potential, they are so talented but they sit on it, I call it the beautiful shame. But you guys have the confidence to write, to do something about it, and that’s amazing.”

Over 1200 submissions were entered for the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, which was announced in March with the aim of promoting the stories that aren’t being heard and to find the best writer of a new generation. The prize was open to aspiring writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry from the UK and Eire, aged between 16 and 30 and is run in collaboration with The Good Literary Agency and First Story.

For more information on the #Merky books prize, visit: penguin.co.uk


About the winning submissions:

Name: Monika Radojevic
Title: 23 and Me
Genre: Poetry

Where are you from? When you don’t know the answer, a simple question pulls at something deeper. Monika Radojevic’s poems paint a story of the joys, the confusions and the moments of sadness behind having one’s history scattered around the globe, and the way in which your identity is always worn on your skin, whether you like or not.

Monika Radojevic is currently completing her Masters in Development Studies. She is half-Brazilian and half-Montenegrin but born in London, therefore exploring belonging and identity have become the central themes of her work. When not writing or studying she can be found passionately arguing about gender or sampling various cheesecakes.

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Name: Hafsa Zayyan
Title: We Are All Birds of Uganda
Genre: Novel

Sameer is 26 years old. The son of penniless refugees, he graduated from Cambridge University with a first- class degree and then secured a job with a six-figure salary at one of London’s top city firms. From the outside, everything seems perfect. So why does Sameer feel like there is something missing?

Hasan was born in Uganda after his family moved there from India, enticed by opportunities promised by the British. Sixty years later, what started as a small trading shop now spans multiple businesses across fifteen different locations in Uganda, including the country’s premier tailoring service. In that time, Hasan has had two wives, nine children, and seven grandchildren. The whole extended family are housed within the large, leafy, gated community of Nakasero Hill. Life is good, alhumdulilah (praise be to Allah). It is the summer of 1972. A chance encounter with a stranger leads Sameer to take a trip to Uganda, the homeland he has never visited. It is there that the worlds of Sameer and Hasan, half a century apart, begin to collide. This is a story about generational and racial divides and the meaning of sacrifice, success, loyalty and love.

Hafsa Zayyan was born to a Nigerian father and Pakistani mother, who met when her mother’s family migrated from Pakistan to West Africa in the late fifties. Growing up, Hafsa lived in several different countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, before her family finally settled in the UK. As a British Muslim, her writing touches on her personal experiences and explores themes of identity, culture, race, religion and family.

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