IAN RANKIN OBE announces the winner of the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award

  • ‘Pemi Aguda wins the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award
  • Stephen Buoro and S. Bhattacharya-Woodward awarded second and third place respectively
  • Judges were Ian Rankin, Sarah Perry and Max Porter
  • The winner receives the £10,000 prize
  • Second and third place each receive £1,000


The winner of the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award is ‘Pemi Aguda for The Suicide Mothers, a work of fiction. Ian Rankin (Chair of the Judges) introduced the three shortlisted authors and then announced the winner who will receive the prize of £10,000.


‘Pemi Aguda accepted her award via video:

In second place was Stephen Buoro for The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa and in third place S. Bhattacharya-Woodward for Zolo and Other Stories. Both titles are works of fiction.  The authors will each receive £1,000.

Ian Rankin, Sarah Perry and Max Porter, the judges of the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, made their shortlist selection from a longlist of eight sent to them in March. The longlist was chosen by agents within Rogers Coleridge & White, after reading a staggering 876 entries.

The winner ‘Pemi Aguda is from Lagos, Nigeria. She has an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan, where she is currently a Zell Fellow. Her short stories appear in Granta, American Short Fiction and Zoetrope: All-Story, among others.


Ian Rankin, Chair of the Judges, comments:

“We had a longlist of eight from which to choose. All eight had their strengths. We encountered a series of unique and powerful authorial voices from many corners of the globe. As a reader I found myself challenged, enthralled, amused and given fresh insights into the casts of characters and their individual worldscapes.

There must, however, be winners. And in third place we selected ZOLO AND OTHER STORIES by S.Bhattacharya-Woodward. These short stories were humane, quirky and moving. They look with intensity at contemporary urban life, focussing on the good as well as the bad.

In second place we chose THE FIVE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES OF ANDY AFRICA by Stephen Buoro. This novel exudes a wonderfully vivid sense of place and leads the reader inside the head of its teenage hero as he sets off to locate his “real” mother. It’s a narrative of depth that also manages to be instantly engaging.

And to our winner: first prize goes to ‘Pemi Aguda for THE SUICIDE MOTHERS. This novel begins with a real wow moment and sustains momentum as it draws us into a world that is utterly contemporary yet has room for the mythic and the supernatural. The politics of Lagos, environmental concerns and the coming of age of the young and pregnant protagonist make for a wonderfully kinetic and gripping story.

It was a pleasure to read all the longlisted works. My congratulations go to the entrants and especially the three prizewinners.  I don’t doubt that the whole longlist  has a bright future in literary endeavour, and I congratulate them.”


Sarah Perry, Judge, comments:

“It was such a privilege and a pleasure to be involved in judging this year's prize. The longlist showed a wonderful range of imagination, talent and skill, and it was especially exciting to read work coming from all over the world, and drawing on an enormous range of influences. Our winner, THE SUICIDE MOTHERS, is a tremendously gripping novel which I'm sure will reach a wide audience, and both our shortlistees show such talent and promise I look forward very much to seeing their names on the shelves before long.”


Max Porter, Judge, comments:

“I felt a degree of trepidation beginning this process, given the outstanding track record of the Writers Prize with its first two Awards, and my fondness towards the prize's namesake, as well as my fellow judges. What if we don't find a good winner? What if the quality of the entries isn't up to scratch? Such concerns became laughable in the opening sentences of the book we eventually chose as a winner, and again in each of the longlisted entries. The prize has attracted literary work of the highest calibre and it was a pleasure to read such good work in progress.”


Gill Coleridge, Director of the Deborah Rogers Foundation, comments:

“We have once again been very excited to discover three extraordinary new voices representing the best of new contemporary writing and feel privileged to read their work at the beginning of their careers. The great success of the previous winners of the 2016 and 2018 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award has already brought distinction and renown to the Foundation and we are confident that the talented winners here tonight will enhance and continue that trajectory.”


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