#Merky Books New Writers’ Prize – meet the 2020 judges

This year's judges include an Olympian, a blogger and commentator and an academic.

Collage of judges for #Merky New Writers' Prize, with multiple cut outs of Stormzy, Katarina Johnson Thompson, Guz Khan and Candice Braithwaite.

Candice Braithwaite

Photo of Candice Braithwaite wearing a black top, with a blue cross body bag and holding a mobile phone.

Candice Brathwaite is an author, journalist, TV presenter, and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse – an online initiative that aims to ensure many more people see themselves reflected online.

Candice started blogging in 2016 to tell her own motherhood story keen to show that young Black families weren’t just surviving but thriving and her straight-talking, original content really struck a chord with fans and brands alike.

A self-confessed beauty and fashion obsessive Candice now has a regular style segment on Lorraine on ITV where she has become known for gently encouraging people to be bolder about embracing colour in their wardrobes.

Candice is a contributing editor to Grazia and regularly appears on national radio and television news channels to talk about maternal mortality rates for Black women in Britain.

Her debut book I Am Not Your Baby Mother - about being a Black British mum – published in May 2020 by Quercus made The Sunday Times Bestseller list. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Black and white photograph of Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Tipped to become one of the world’s greatest ever athletes; KJT has established herself as the best all-round athlete on the planet. Since the start of 2018, KJT has been crowned the 2018 World Indoor Champion, the 2018 Commonwealth Champion, the 2018 European Silver medallist, the 2019 European Indoor Champion and the 2019 World Champion, where her performance set a new British Heptathlon Record and placed her 4th on the all-time list.

Away from sport, KJT’s passions include reading – she can get through a couple of books a week; the creative arts – KJT has walked the runway at Paris Fashion Week, is undertaking an interior design project and has learnt how to DJ; but most importantly, is her passion to empower others and give back to her community. Recently founding the KJT Academy which will work in partnership with Liverpool FC’s LFC Foundation, the KJT Academy will deliver a community talent development programme that focuses on providing opportunities for young, underserved members of her community to participate in sport whilst also offering scholarship opportunities for state schooled, BAME athletes pursuing their Olympic dreams. KJT has not forgotten her beginnings in Liverpool and is as much of a role model away from the sporting arena as she is on it.


Head and shoulders picture of Stormzy, wearing a black t-shirt and top.
Image: Henry J Kamara

Stormzy is an award-winning musician from Thornton Heath, South London. His two albums to date; ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ and ‘Heavy Is The Head’ both finished at #1 in the UK album chart and were subsequently nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Last year he headlined Britain’s prominent music festival, Glastonbury.

His remarkable ascent has been accompanied by his honest and relatable character. A true spokesman of black empowerment and social activism, Stormzy is one of the UK’s most inspiring figureheads who has consistently stood up for people from all areas of life; encouraging his fans and listeners alike to speak openly about their beliefs and fight for their rights. In July 2018, Stormzy announced #Merky Books, an imprint within Penguin Random House UK, dedicated to publishing the best new fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and in August 2018 he announced ‘The Stormzy Scholarship’, an annual studentship to fund two black British students to go to the University of Cambridge. In June 2020, Stormzy announced that he pledges 10 million pounds, over 10 years, to organisations, charities and movements that are committed to fighting racial inequality, justice reform and black empowerment within the UK.

Building momentum with impassioned support from his devoted fan base, Stormzy is now the proud possessor of over 30 awards. The Croydon-born MC has also broken records in the live sphere and last year became the first British rapper to ever headline Glastonbury Festival, one of the world’s biggest music festivals.

Emma Dabiri

Photo of Emma Dabiri wearing a black top and black jacket, standing in front of a brick wall.

Emma Dabiri is an Irish-Nigerian author, academic and broadcaster. Her bestselling debut book, Don’t Touch My Hair, unravels the social history of black hairstyles and was shortlisted for the 2019 Irish Book Awards. Her works features regularly in the international media and she has presented multiple programmes for the BBC and Channel 4, on radio and television, covering art, history and sociology. She is a teaching fellow in the Africa department at SOAS University of London.

Guz Khan

Picture of Guz Khan wearing a white Nike jacket, standing against a yellow background.

Guz Khan is the star and creator of the award winning Man Like Mobeen, which is now on its third Series. He went from being a school teacher to one of the country’s most loved talents in a few short years. He stars in Mindy Kaling’s Four Weddings and a Funeral and alongside Idris Elba in Turn Up Charlie. Selling out multiple venues around the country for his Persons Of Interest tour with Mo Amer and having two successful Work In Progress runs at the Soho Theatre, Guz is also a well-known stand-up comedian. He has performed at and hosted Live At The Apollo.

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