The 2021 Primadonna Prize

Sandi Toksvig announced the 2022 winner of the Primadonna Prize at a special event in Conway Hall, central London, in March 2022 which featured the competition judges Kit de Waal, Lisa Milton and Sairish Hussain, as well as special guest star Lenny Henry.

Gayathiri Kamalakanthan received her prize at the end of an evening of entertainment featuring renowned disabled playwright and actor Athena Stevens and Funny Women award winner Bronwyn Sweeney, as well as a conversation between Henry and de Waal about the BBC One adaptation of de Waal’s book My Name is Leon. Kamalakanthan, who works as Head of Queer Education at the School of Sexuality Education, delivering inclusive sex ed in schools, was overwhelmed to win. ‘I really didn’t expect to win, it’s amazing to be here, and I’m really excited about what comes next.’ As well as £500, they also take home a contract with leading literary agent Cath Summerhayes, who will guide them through the process of writing their first full-length manuscript.
 
The Primadonna Prize is for unsigned and unrepresented new writing talent. It was established to open up access to the publishing industry, and is judged anonymously and without regard to grammar or spelling: a first for a literary prize.
 
The winner of the first Primadonna Prize in 2020 was Elissa Soave. Her novel Ginger and Me is published in July by HQ Stories. Last year’s winner, Honoria Beirne, will shortly submit her final manuscript to go out on submission.

Meet this year’s judges

Monique Roffey

Monique Roffey is an award winning Trinidadian born British writer of novels, essays, literary journalism and a memoir. Her most recent novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch, (Peepal Tree Press) won the Costa Book of the Year Award, 2020, and was nominated for seven major awards. The film rights were sold to Dorothy Street Pictures and will be developed by Film Four. Her other Caribbean novels, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and House of Ashes have been nominated for major awards too (Costa, Orange, Encore etc). Archipelago won the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature in 2013. Her work has been translated into several languages. She is a co-founder of Writers Rebel within Extinction Rebellion. She is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and a tutor for the National Writers Centre.

Sairish Hussain

Sairish Hussain was born and brought up in Bradford, West Yorkshire. She studied English Language and Literature at the University of Huddersfield and progressed onto an MA in Creative Writing. Sairish completed her PhD in 2019 after being awarded the university's Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship. Her debut novel, The Family Tree, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, and longlisted for the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award. She is now writing her second book.

Michael Donkor

Michael Donkor was born in London, to Ghanaian parents, and teaches English Literature in West London. Many of the issues explored in his debut Hold are close to his heart, and his writing won him a place on the Writers’ Centre Norwich's Inspires Scheme in 2014, where he received a year’s mentoring from Daniel Hahn. In 2018 he was named as one of The Observer's New Faces of Fiction, and this year Hold was longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Award.

Cathryn Summerhayes

Cathryn is a literary agent at Curtis Brown. Having started her literary agency career there as an intern in 2004, she moved to WME where she established an eclectic list of clients over 10 years before returning to Curtis Brown in 2016. She has worked at a number of other British literary agencies and at Colman Getty PR – where she worked on a number of high profile book events including The Booker Prize. She was named The British Book Awards’ Literary Agent of the Year in 2019. Her clients include Adam Kay, Lucy Foley, Sandi Toksvig, Chris Whitaker, Anita Rani, Shappi Khorsandi, Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles, Nicky Campbell, Mark Watson, Naomi Wood, Kirsty Logan, Susan Fletcher, Johanna Basford, Grace Dent, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Deliciously Ella, Polpo’s Russell Norman, Catherine Mayer, Konnie Huq and Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.

Kit de Waal

Kit de Waal is an award-winning writer whose novels place ordinary people at the centre of the story. Kit was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother, who was a childminder and foster carer, and a Caribbean father. She worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law, was a magistrate for several years and sits on adoption panels. Her debut novel, My Name is Leon (2016), was the winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2017 and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Costa Book Award, among others. Kit’s second novel, The Trick to Time, was published in March 2018 and longlisted for The Women’s Prize. Kit crowdfunded Common People, an anthology of working class memoir by new and established writers, which was published in May 2019. Her first YA novel, Becoming Dinah was published in July 2019 and was followed a year later by her collection of short stories Supporting Cast (2020). Kit is a co-founder of the Primadonna Festival, The Big Book Weekend and Portopia Productions, as well as a Writer in Residence at Limerick University. Find her on Twitter @KitdeWaal

Lisa Milton

Lisa Milton is Executive Publisher HQ Stories as well as sitting on the Exec Committee of HarperCollinsUK. She joined HarperCollins in 2015 after a decade as Managing Director of Orion Publishing where she was responsible for Orion, Orion Children’s, Gollancz and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, which was awarded Imprint of the Year at the 2015 Bookseller Industry Awards. Whilst there she published major bestsellers and award winning authors including Maeve Binchy, Ian Rankin, Gillian Flynn and Malala Yousafzai. Previously Lisa was Editorial Director at BCA, the UK’s biggest book club, and prior to this she had a successful career at Waterstones, where one of her most notable achievements was opening the flagship store in Piccadilly and winning the Bookshop of the Year Industry Award in 2000. Find her on Twitter @MsLisaMilton

We’re very proud that this year’s judging panel comprises three incredible authors: Monique Roffey, author of this year’s Costa-winning The Mermaid of Black Conch; Sairish Hussain, whose debut novel The Family Tree was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2020; and Michael Donkor who was longlisted for the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize following publication of his debut novel Hold.They join three of our wonderful Primadonnas: literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes, award-winning writer Kit de Waal, and publisher Lisa Milton.

“We’re very excited to read how the theme will be interpreted, and have no doubt that the standard will be as exceptionally high as for every other year of the Prize.”  — CATHRYN SUMMERHAYES

About the Primadonna Prize

The chance to win an agent! And not just any agent, our own Primadonna Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown, plus £500.

The Primadonna Prize is for unsigned and unrepresented new writing talent. It was established to help open up access to the publishing industry, and is judged anonymously and without regard to grammar or spelling: a first for a literary prize. The focus is squarely on the talent of the authors.

The shortlist for the 2021 Primadonna Prize was:

  • Shazia Altaf
  • Simmy Chana Hodson
  • Anne Hamilton
  • Gayathiri Kamalakanthan
  • Hazel Meredith-Lloyd

Our shortlisted writers have now submitted their final piece of writing, which will be judged by our panel of six authors, agents and publishers just prior to the award event on 31 March.

To see this year’s longlist, click here. For full terms and conditions, click here.