An American author has won this year's Dylan Thomas Prize, awarded by Swansea University, for her "fearless" debut novel.

Raven Leilani, from New York, picked up this year's prestigious prize, awarded annually for the best published English-language literary work by a young writer.

Her novel Luster is "an accomplished and fearless novel that carries the ache, uncertainty and vulnerability as well as the harsh reality of being a young black woman in America," said Namita Gokhale, chair of the judging panel.

Ms Leilani was awarded the £20,000 prize last night in a virtual ceremony, hosted by Welsh actor Celyn Jones, on the eve of International Dylan Thomas Day.

Luster has won praise from other writes, including Zadie Smith, who called the novel "brutal and brilliant," and was named by former US president Barack Obama as one of his favourite books of 2020.

"Raven Leilani is an astonishingly original new voice," said chief judge Ms Gokhale. "We are delighted that the jury of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize unanimously decided on this riveting debut novel as its choice for the 2021 prize.

"We cannot wait to see what comes next from this uncompromising talent."

The book follows narrator Edie, a young black woman, as she navigates her "dead-end" job, a string of failed relationships, and "the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics".

Ms Gokhale praised Luster for the narrator's "unblinking and masterly...eye for all registers of racist bias".

She added: "This is an important, uncomfortable book, in turns funny and angry, and always compelling."

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Launched in 2006, Swansea University's annual Dylan Thomas Prize celebrates international fiction in all forms, including novels, poetry, short stories and drama. Authors eligible for the prize must by 39 or younger, reflecting the age at which Dylan Thomas died in 1953.

The other works shortlisted for the 2021 prize were Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat, Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, Pew by Catherine Lacey, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

International Dylan Thomas Day

The Swansea University award comes on International Dylan Thomas Day, now in its seventh year, and organised by Dylan Thomas' grandaughter, Hannah Ellis.

Ms Ellis told The National: "The enthusiasm for International Dylan Thomas Day continues to be strong.  I repeatedly see the passion and love there still is for my grandfather’s work and places. 

"As each year passes, I am further energised to work hard and keep the date prominent on the annual literary calendar.  

The National Wales: Hannah Ellis. Photo:discoverdylanthomas.comHannah Ellis. Photo:discoverdylanthomas.com

"Dylan Thomas 100 in 2014, demonstrated to me that there was an appetite from across the world to uncover the hidden secrets of my grandfather’s writing. 

"As people read, it resulted in a desire to also want to discover Wales, the beautiful coastal country he had described so eloquently in his poetry and stories.

The date of May 14 is significant, says Hannah:"It was the first time Under Milk Wood was performed with involvement from a cast.

"There had been a few solo readings, and one with friends, but this was the important one – May 14th 1953 at the 92Y Poetry Center in New York.

"On the same night, my grandfather told the cast: ‘Love the words, love the words’, and we have used that as the title of our own annual writing competition."

Find out more about International Dylan Thomas Day and the 'Love the Words' competition at Discovery Dylan Thomas.