ILX10: Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

Meet Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, a rising star of UK writing.

Ayanna Lloyd Banwo (b. 1980) is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago. Her debut novel When We Were Birds was the 2023 winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award, and the American Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize, the Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award, the McKitterick Prize and named one of the UK Observer’s Best Debuts and The Economist’s Best Books of 2022. Her short fiction and non-fiction have been published in Moko Magazine, Small Axe and PREE, among others and shortlisted for the Small Axe Literary Competition and the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. She is the 2023 winner of the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award and is at work on her second novel. She currently lives in Norwich.

Twitter/X @AyaRoots

Instagram @ayalloydbanwo

Website

ILX 10: Rising Stars of UK Writing

The ILX10 is NCW’s selection of ten exciting, dynamic, and thought-provoking early-career writers based in the UK whose work has the powerful potential to speak to and engage with global literary audiences. It forms part of a three-year programme called the International Literature Exchange.

Find out more

Reviews

‘There are novelists who are called to bear witness. Ayanna Lloyd Banwo is one of them. When We Were Birds delivers an intimate, resonant, and unforgettable narrative of love that makes the most wondrous, wild, and mystical aspects of our Caribbean feel dearly familiar to all of us.’ — Judges of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature

‘[A] masterly debut novel. It announces an important new voice in fiction, at once grounded and mythic in its scope and carried by an incantatory prose style that recalls Arundhati Roy’s hugely impactful debut, The God of Small Things . . . Her writing draws on grief, but Lloyd Banwo’s literary gift lies in her capacity to transfigure that emotion – to conjure a cosmic landscape where the living coexist among the dead.’ — The Observer (Top Ten Debut Novels of 2022)

‘Mythic and captivating . . . Banwo roots the reader in [Trinidad’s] traditions and rituals, in the sights and sounds and colors and smells of fruit vendors, fish vendors, street preachers and schoolchildren. In the glorious matriarchy by which lineage is upheld. The result is a depiction of ordinary life that’s full and breathtaking.’ — New York Times Book Review

‘A searing symphony of magic and loss, love and hope, where in the middle of death, love comes shiny, sparkling and alive. This book might just heal you.’ — Marlon James

‘Luminous, gripping, packed with drama, colour and tension . . . A thoroughly original and emotionally rich examination of love, grief and inheritance . . . Like the vultures which escort dead souls to the afterlife, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s novel takes flight and soars.’ — The Economist

Writers I admire

Toni Morrison, Earl Lovelace, Olive Senior

Does living in the UK shape the stories you tell about Trinidad?

I write home no matter where I am. My maternal family are five generations deep in Trinidad and Tobago. It is the place that I was born, the place I first found other worlds in the pages of books, the place I grew to adulthood and began to write, the place I buried my dead. Although I have now lived in the UK for seven years and tentatively put down roots, I still feel like a stranger here sometimes – learning the geography of bus routes and train stations, always wearing the wrong coat for the weather, quarrelling about the ever-increasing price of plantain and hunting for good curry goat. Then I catch a snatch of an accent that sounds like mine in a crowd or hear soca music blasting from a passing car and the terrain shifts. For a second, dusky blues, the hazy, goldenlight of afternoons, and the brilliant greens of mountains drenched by a heavy downpour of rain feel powerfully close. I am here and I am there – the place I know best and that knows me back. It is not homesickness or nostalgia. It is a reminder to be as close to home as possible in my writing, to honour its crossings, and speak in its tongues, to always write my islands as if they were continents, as if they were the centre of the world.

The International Literature Exchange is a programme from National Centre for Writing, supported by the British Council and Arts Council England.

 

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