Derek Owusu said he wrote That Reminds Me out of a “desire to understand myself better". Image: Stuart Simpson/Penguin

Derek Owusu said he wrote That Reminds Me out of a “desire to understand myself better". Image: Stuart Simpson/Penguin

Writer and poet Derek Owusu has won the prestigious Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction for his coming-of-age “verse novel” That Reminds Me, it was announced today.

Praised by judges as a "transcendent work of literature", the novel scooped the £10,000 prize from a shortlist of three titles by Black writers, including The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and Okechukwu Nzelu's The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney.

Speaking shortly after the prize was announced, Owusu said: "Winning the Desmond Elliott Prize has given me the confidence to continue writing just when I needed it most, and seeded the idea that maybe there is space for writers like myself in the literary landscape of the UK."

That Reminds Me – published by Stormzy’s #Merky Books imprint – is a powerful, semi-autobiographical meditation on identity, belonging and mental health.

It tells the story of a British-Ghanaian boy called K who – like Owusu – was taken into foster care as an infant in rural England, where he enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the countryside. But when his birth family claims him back aged 11, he is thrown into an alien world of working-class city life – trading fields and trees for concrete and council blocks, with a hard-working mother and semi-absent, sometimes violent, father.

That Reminds Me is written with a rare style that wrings pure beauty from every painful, absurd moment K must face,” said judge Preti Taneja, whose own novel, We That Are Young, won the prize in 2018.

“Despite the terrors around him, this young black man has an instinctive love for the world that burns at the core of the book.”

She added: “The judges and I were as shattered by the truths of the story as we were moved by the talent of its writer. Derek Owusu has given us a unique, profound and transcendent work of literature: we want as many readers as possible to discover it – once they do they will return to again and again.”

As well as writing, Owusu is also the award-winning host of lit and pop-culture podcast Mostly Lit and contributed to Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space, an anthology MP Diane Abbott called "utterly unique".

Speaking to in January, he said he wrote That Reminds Me out of a “desire to understand myself better,” adding: “I was in hospital when I came up with the character of K, and exploring his life helped me understand my own.”

Idris Elba's production company, Green Door Pictures, has already bought the rights to Owusu's yet-to-be-released second book, Teaching My Brother To Read.

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