Breakout sensation Caleb Azumah Nelson, the British-Ghanaian writer and photographer, wins the 2021 Costa First Novel Award for his debut novel Open Water, about two young, aspiring artists falling in and out of love in south-east London. The other finalists were AK Blakemore for The Manningtree Witches and Kate Sawyer for The Stranding.
The Costa Book Awards, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the UK, is annually awarded across five categories—Novel Award, First Novel Award, Biography Award, Poetry Award and Children’s Book Award—to writers from the UK and Ireland. Winners in each category receive a cash award of £5,000, with an ultimate winner receiving a further £30,000.
The judges praised Azumah’s novel for its contemporary portrait of masculinity, describing it as “deeply moving, searingly intimate and just so now”, and “like nothing else we’ve read.”
Azumah, who already has a second novel on its way, reportedly quit his job at a London Apple store to write Open Water during the summer of 2019 at the British Library. He said the prize felt ‘surreal.’ Speaking to The Guardian UK, he said: “I think I am honestly still getting used to the fact that I have not only put a book out, but that it’s been really well received. All writers do this – you kind of commit these acts of bravery by putting words down on the page, and then you close your eyes when you’ve done it and hope someone might read it.”
The overall winner (aka Book of the Year) will be selected by a judging panel chaired by the journalist and broadcaster Reeta Chakrabarti, and announced on February 1. The winner will receive an additional £30,000 prize.
Congratulations and fingers crossed for Caleb Azumah Nelson!