With book prizes of long vintage, the proof of the pudding is always in the reading. Or, in the case of the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with Warwick University, it’s in the authors.
How many of the writers that our past judges have picked as the voices of the future have fulfilled the promise we first saw in them in their early books.
The answer, in our case, is an astonishing number. Go back over the history of this prize, which is given to British (and Irish now) writers of 35 years or under for a book of real literary merit in any discipline, and you will find a Who’s Who of future literary substance. Since 1991, when the first award was made – to the outstanding short story writer Helen Simpson, as it happens – our judges have peered into the crystal ball with astonishing prescience.
Look at this sample list, written down in no particular order: Robert Macfarlane, Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters, Simon Armitage, William Dalrymple, Patrick French, Francis Spufford, Paul Farley, Caryl Phillips. Oh, and Naomi Alderman, who’s just picked up the Baileys Prize for her novel The Power.
I’m biased, I know, but I cannot think of another British prize to match ours for the consistency of its choices, and the vindication given them by time.
And, crucially, since the prize was relaunched in 2015 with the support of Peters Fraser and Dunlop, and with the additional sponsorship this year of Warwick University, the choice of winners – Sarah Howe in 2015 and Max Porter in 2016 – has been every bit as good, I think, as in the previous quarter century or more.
We’re very aware of the heritage of this fine prize, and how vital it is to maintain that heritage as we head into the next quarter century of the award.
Andrew Holgate is Sunday Times Literary Editor, and Judge.
The next winner of the prize will be announced in December 2017.