Max Porter has been awarded The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2016 for his extraordinary debut Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Faber), the moving story of a widower and his young sons drawn from his own experience of childhood loss and inspired by the work of Ted Hughes, at a special evening ceremony in The London Library.
Part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on bereavement, Grief is the Thing with Feathers has been one of 2016’s breakout publishing success, Waterstones Book of the Month, a bestseller in both hardback and paperback charts, winner of this year’s International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the winner of last month’s BAMB Readers Awards in the fiction category.
35-year-old Porter, editorial director at Granta Books and Portobello Books, was shortlisted for the award alongside three other leading writers who showcased the breadth of experimentation underway in contemporary British writing: Jessie Greengrass for her time-spanning short story collection An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It (JM Originals); Andrew McMillan for his debut poetry collection on male desire, Physical (Cape Poetry); and Benjamin Wood for his immersive second novel The Ecliptic (Scribner).
Generously sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, the prize is awarded annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35, either published or self-published, and has gained attention and acclaim across the publishing industry and press. £5,000 is given to the overall winner and £500 to each of the three runners-up.
This year’s award was judged by a panel comprised of acclaimed broadcaster James Naughtie, award-winning historian Stella Tillyard, and The Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate.
It was also announced at the ceremony that a partnership with the University of Warwick had been developed for 2017 as organisers look to broaden the award’s platform for supporting and nurturing the country’s young writing talent. From 2017, the award will be run in association with the University of Warwick, who will amplify the partnership by offering a bespoke 10-week residency for the award’s winner, run a day festival of events, and provide a year-round programme of on-campus and digital support for award alumni and the year’s shortlist.
For the first time, this year’s award has been chronicled by an official shadow judging panel made up of some of the country’s leading book bloggers: Eric Karl Andersen (lonesomereader.com), Kim Forrester (readingmattersblog.com), Naomi Frisby (thewritesofwoman.wordpress.com), Charlie Place (wormhole.carnelianvalley.com), and Simon Savidge (savidgereads.wordpress.com). Last week, the group gave their Bloggers’ Choice award to Jessie Greengrass for her shortlisted collection of short stories An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It.
Since The Sunday Times founded the award 25 years ago, in 1991, it has had an uncanny ability to pick future literary stars, and now has one of literature's most distinguished lists of past winners, who have gone on to become leading lights of contemporary literature.
Following a five year break, the award returned with a bang last year, awarding debut poet Sarah Howe the top prize for her outstanding first collection, Loop of Jade, which then went on to win the country’s leading prize for poetry, the T.S. Eliot Prize.
Other past winners are: Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country (2009); Adam Foulds, The Truth About These Strange Times (2008); Naomi Alderman, Disobedience (2007), Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (2004); William Fiennes, The Snow Geese (2003); Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2001); Sarah Waters, Affinity (2000); Paul Farley, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1999); Patrick French, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division (1998); Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (1997); Katherine Pierpoint, Truffle Beds (1996); Andrew Cowan, Pig (1995); William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1994); Simon Armitage, Kid (1993); Caryl Phillips, Cambridge (1992); and Helen Simpson, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories (1991).