The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award

The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award is an annual award, made possible by the Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2020 winner was Jay Bernard for Surge (Chatto & Windus)

Poet Jay Bernard has been named winner of the 2020 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award for their collection Surge, a fearless exploration of the 1981 New Cross Fire, in which thirteen young black people were killed. Initially believed to be a racist attack and dubbed the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the cause of the fire was never determined, and the perceived indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain. Across the poems of Surge, Bernard traces a line from the New Cross Fire to the ‘towers of blood’ of the Grenfell fire, while exploring the deeply personal stories of the communities that it affected, as well as the wider context of black British history.

The judges chose Bernard from a shortlist of 5 that also contained Catherine Cho (for the memoir Inferno), poet Seán Hewitt (for Tongues of Fire), alongside the novelists Naoise Dolan (for Exciting Times) and Marina Kemp (for Nightingale).

For its final year, The University of Warwick – home to the acclaimed Warwick Writing Programme – acted as the title sponsor of the prize. The winner package included a bespoke 10-week residency at the University of Warwick, in addition to £5,000 in prize money. The 2020 winner received 2 years’ membership to The London Library, while the remaining four shortlistees all received a year’s membership in addition to this.

Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, said: “This has been a very strong year for the Young Writer Award, and all five authors on our shortlist deserve huge congratulations for their outstanding books. When we came to the final meeting, though, there was little doubt in the judges’ minds about our winner, or about the qualities on display in Jay Bernard’s book – control, variety, passionate engagement, intense human feeling. So many previous winners of the Young Writer Award have gone on to have significant literary careers, and with Surge it feels again like we are witnessing the start of something significant.”

Jay Bernard joins Raymond Antrobus, Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe as the sixth writer in an exceptional line-up of defining new voices spotted and supported by the Young Writer of the Year Award since it returned from a 7-year break in 2015. With an alumni list since the award began 29 years ago that includes everyone from Robert Macfarlane to Zadie Smith, from Sarah Waters to Simon Armitage, the award – for the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35 – is an unrivalled spotter of future literary greats at the beginning of their careers.

The prize of £5,000 is awarded for a full-length published or self-published (in book or ebook formats) work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, by a British or Irish author aged 18-35 years. There are three awards of £500 each for runners-up. The winning book will be the work of the most outstanding literary merit. 

The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award is currently closed for submissions


  • UK and Irish citizens and those who have been resident in the UK and/or the Republic of Ireland for the three years preceding the award are all eligible. 
  • The author must be between the ages of 18 and 35 years on 31 December 2020. 
  • The work submitted must be by one author in the English language. 
  • The work submitted must have been first published in the UK and/or the Republic of Ireland, in the English language, between 15 June 2019 and 22 June 2020.  
  • Ebooks must be submitted in PDF format. 
  • Publishers may enter up to two entries per imprint and may provide a written submission for one further title for possible call in.