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Stormzy announces the co-winners of his writers’ prize initiative, the #Merky Books Writers’ Prize



Monika Radojevic, for her poetry collection '23 and Me', and Hafsa Zayyan, for her novel 'We Are All Birds of Uganda', are today announced as co-winners of the first #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, a new writers initiative from Stormzy’s #Merky Books imprint with Penguin Random House. 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, celebrated writer Yrsa Daley-Ward, writer and agent Nikesh Shukla of The Good Literary Agency and Susan Sandon, Managing Director at Penguin Random House UK.
 
Monika Radojevic says: ‘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.’
 
Hafsa Zayyan says: ‘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.’
 
Stormzy says: ‘Thank you for applying, because 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.'
 
Susan Sandon, Managing Director at PRH UK says: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the response to the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, which I was truly honoured to judge, and the extremely high standard of the entries. Selecting a winner from twenty phenomenal writers was very difficult indeed, so I’m pleased and proud that we have decided on two. Hafsa Zayyan and Monika Radojevic are certainly among the best writers of a new generation, and I cannot wait to see their books come into the world.’
 
Kayo Chingonyi says: ‘Reading for the prize felt like being given a vision of the future. There was innovation among these entries as well as a very welcome collapsing of received notions of literariness. Not all of these entries are ready to be books right now but there is enormous promise here and the passion and dedication among these writers to live up to their evident potential. I was excited, moved, and I learned from reading these entries and I am confident that a wide range of readers will share in that process before too long as these projects take shape, evolve, and find their audiences.’
 
Yrsa Daley-Ward says: ‘This was such an incredible honour to judge and I am floored and so inspired by the talent of these young writers. Thank you to all participants for being so bold and innovative in your work!’
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.
 
The prize was announced at Penguin Presents, Penguin Random House UK’s annual celebration of some of its most exciting authors, their forthcoming books and the transformative power of reading.
 

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.
 
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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