Mancunian writer Okechukwu Nzelu is on the 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize shortlist with his debut novel, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney (Dialogue Books). When asked what motivated him to tell Nnenna’s story he describes being sixteen and spotting Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a Black History Month display at Manchester Central Library.
“I took it out and read it in two days (incredibly fast for me) and I couldn’t believe how great it felt to read a book with names I recognised, with language I was familiar with. It really did feel like home, and I felt so profoundly grateful for it when I finished. Shouldn’t more people feel like that, and more often?” Okechukwu talks more about his feelings for Manchester in the full interview at the New Writing North website.
Called ‘smart, serious and entertaining’ by Bernardine Evaristo, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney follows Nnenna, a half-Nigerian teenager living in Manchester with her mother Joanie. As Nnenna approaches womanhood she begins to question her identity; in particular her feelings about being black and brought up by her white single mother. As Nnenna tries to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian identity, her once close and tender relationship with her mother becomes strained.
On Twitter, yesterday Okechukwu said “I’m so thrilled and proud to have been shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize for The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney. I couldn’t be happier to be on the shortlist with these two writers. What wonderful news at this dark time!”
Three shortlisted novels are in the running to be named the year’s best debut novel from across the UK and Ireland and win £10,000. With Okechukwu on the 2020 shortlist are Abi Daré for The Girl with the Louding Voice (Sceptre) and Derek Owusu for That Reminds Me (#Merky Books). The winner will be revealed on 2 July and you can read more about each novel at the National Centre for Writing.
The 2020 judges are former Desmond Elliott Prize winner Preti Taneja, Chief Lead Writer at The Observer Sonia Sodha and writer Sinéad Gleeson. In an article in The Guardian yesterday, head of the judging panel Preti Taneja wrote “We also celebrate that – in what might be a first for UK mainstream prizes – our shortlisted books are all by black writers.”
Yoi can follow @MerkyBooks, @SceptreBooks and @dialoguebooks on Twitter. The Centre for New Writing tweet as @writerscentre and keep up to date with Okechukwu Nzelu at @NzeluWrites. Why not You buy each novel from Hive to support independent bookshops or borrow from libraries when we’re back open.