Desmond Elliott Prize Winner 2020

 

The National Centre for Writing is delighted to announce that Derek Owusu’s That Reminds Me is the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020.

The novel-in-verse, praised by judges as a ‘transcendent work of literature’, is chosen as the best debut novel across the UK and Ireland this year from a strong shortlist including The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu.

In addition to the £10,000 prize money, Owusu will receive a tailored year-round platform of support and mentorship from the NCW, which is running the Desmond Elliott Prize for the first time this year as part of its new Early Career Awards portfolio.

That Reminds Me

Book cover for 'That Reminds Me'Anansi, your four gifts raised to nyame granted you no power over the stories I tell…

This is the story of K.

K is sent into care before a year marks his birth. He grows up in fields and woods, and he is happy, he thinks. When K is eleven, the city reclaims him. He returns to an unknown mother and a part-time father, trading the fields for flats and a community that is alien to him. Slowly, he finds friends. Eventually, he finds love. He learns how to navigate the city. But as he grows, he begins to realise that he needs more than the city can provide. He is a man made of pieces. Pieces that are slowly breaking apart

That Reminds Me is the story of one young man, from birth to adulthood, told in fragments of memory. It explores questions of identity, belonging, addiction, sexuality, violence, family and religion. It is a deeply moving and completely original work of literature from one of the brightest British writers of today.

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‘The judges and I were as shattered by the truths of the story as we were moved by the talent of its writer.’ – Preti Taneja

 

What the judges said

‘That Reminds Me is written with a rare style that wrings pure beauty from every painful, absurd moment K must face. Despite the terrors around him, this young black man has an instinctive love for the world that burns at the core of the book. The judges and I were as shattered by the truths of the story as we were moved by the talent of its writer. Derek Owusu has given us a unique, profound and transcendent work of literature: we want as many readers as possible to discover it – once they do they will return to again and again.’ – Preti Taneja, chair of judges for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020

 

Further praise for That Reminds Me

‘Derek Owusu’s writing is honest, moving, delicate, but tough. Once you lock on to his words, it is hard to break eye contact. A beautiful meditation on childhood, coming of age, the now, and the media. This work is heartfelt.’  – Benjamin Zephaniah

‘When writing is this honest, it soars. I think that this is why the words in this collection fly around you and settle, as they have. What an incredible use of language and truth. Hope this reaches all the mandem. We need more.’ – Yrsa Daley-Ward

‘A singular achievement.’ – Michael Donkor, Guardian

‘This story is brave and moving.’ – Kate Kellaway, Observer

‘These are words that come from the heart, the lived life and owned observations. Powerful and moving. Social realism at its best.’ – Alex Wheatle

‘I hate Derek Owusu for the same reasons I love him: he is the sort of writer who makes me and other writers have doubts about whether we belong in this art. He is one of a kind. Truly a precious stone of a poet. His words evoke flawless empathy and leave me with either a strained face from smiling or a wet page from crying. I consider myself enlightened, lucky, intimidated and gripped when I read his words.’ – Nelson Abbey

 

About Derek Owusu

Derek Owusu
(c) Josima Senior

Derek Owusu is a writer, poet and podcaster from north London. He discovered his passion for literature at the age of twenty-three while studying exercise science at university. Unable to afford a change of degree, Derek began reading voraciously and sneaking into English Literature lectures at the University of Manchester. Derek edited and contributed to Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space. He was a co-host of the literature podcast Mostly Lit up until 2017.

That Reminds Me is Derek’s first solo work, published by Stormzy’s #Merky Books imprint. It is the first title in a two-book deal for Owusu, and the first book published by the imprint to have won any major literary prize. The TV and film rights to Owusu’s second book with #Merky, Teaching My Brother to Read, have already been sold to Idris Elba’s production company, Green Door Pictures.

 

Interviews and reviews

Derek Owusu: Stormzy-signed author wins Desmond Elliott book prize – BBC Online, July 2020

Merky author Derek Owusu wins Desmond Elliott prize for ‘profound’ debutGuardian, July 2020

Owusu wins Desmond Elliott Prize for That Reminds MeThe Bookseller, July 2020

Derek Owusu: ‘Mental health issues that people find scary aren’t being talked about’Guardian, Nov 2019

Meet the author: Derek Owusu – Penguin

Derek Owusu on That Reminds Me: ‘Writers of colour aren’t really given the space to be experimental’ – i, Nov 2019