Entertainment

Former Vietnamese refugee claims Dylan Thomas Prize

Australian Nam Le, who escaped on a boat with his parents from Vietnam when he was three years old, has grabbed the lucrative Dylan Thomas Prize for his debut collection of short stories, The Boat.

Australian Nam Le, who escaped on a boat with his parents from Vietnam when he was three years old, has grabbed the lucrative Dylan Thomas Prize for his debut collection of short stories, The Boat

"Nam tackles his own background and circumstances as well as that of others with a clear eye, focused intelligence and wonderful use of words," said judging panel chair Peter Florence.

"He is, in this panel's opinion, a phenomenal literary talent, and I look forward to following his career as it progresses."

The $261,000 award, sponsored by the University of Wales, highlights writers under age 30 whose work has been published in the English language.

"It's been a crazy week," Le told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I thought it couldn't get much better than Barack Obama winning the U.S. election."

The 29-year-old author, who was raised in Melbourne, is the second winner of the award.

He was based in New York, where he was the fiction editor of the Harvard Review, but will be moving to Britain next year for a fellowship at the University of East Anglia. Le says he's working on a novel about pirates in the South China Sea.

The Boat 's stories take the reader from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran and New York, and from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a vessel in the South China Sea.

Florence was effusive in his praise for The Boat: "[Le has] demonstrated a rare brilliance that is breathtaking both in the scope of its subject matter and the quality of its writing."

Le fought off competition from five other authors including:

  • British writers Ross Raisin (God's Own Country), Edward Hogan (Blackmoor) and Caroline Bird (Trouble Came To The Turnip ).
  • South African-born Ceridwen Dovey (Blood Kin) and Ethiopian Dinaw Mengestu (Children Of The Revolution ).

The Dylan Thomas award is handed out once every two years. The inaugural prize in 2006 was also won by a collection of short stories, Rachel Tresize's Fresh Apples.