M. H. Ayinde
I Won A Thing
The winner of the 2021 Future Worlds Prize for fantasy and science fiction writers of colour was announced back in February and, erm, it’s me. Apparently it wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t mishear. And I’m not still dreaming.
I know prize winners often say that they didn’t expect to win, but I ... genuinely did not expect to win. I thought my book was too nerdy, too hard-fantasy, and perhaps too unusual, and all the other stories sounded so amazing (read more about the other fantastic entries.) I hadn't really prepared anything to say. My mum gently suggested to me the night before that I should prepare some words "just in case," and so I wrote a bunch of sentences on my phone, sentences I completely forgot once my name was called out. I then stood before a room full of industry professionals and mumbled something about being honoured and thankful, and hopeful that this prize will be a tide to lift all ships. Then I hurried quickly to the back of the room and attempted to become invisible.
It was a very humbling and overwhelming experience, and I spent the rest of that evening clutching a chocolate that slowly melted down my leg while I talked. I met prize sponsor Adjoa Andoh, and was too star struck to remember to ask her for a picture. I met Ben Aaronovitch, founder of the prize, who was so kind with his advice and encouragement. I met a lot of wonderful, dedicated, and passionate editors and agents who will hopefully go on to champion many new marginalised voices. And I met last year's fantastic winner, Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, who was so sweet and supportive. Then I went home and lay awake until the small hours trying to take in what had just happened.
I’m so thankful for the entire Future Worlds Prize experience, not least because it put me in touch with the other writers in the contest. Community is so important in this industry, especially for those of us from marginalised backgrounds, and our work is so isolating. I’m thankful to now be able to call the other finalists my friends, and hope we will remain in touch. It’s astonishing that in a genre that centres the imaginative, we still tend to hear the same set of voices. But I’m hoping initiatives like this will help to break down some of those barriers. Our worlds and words are needed and have value, and there is such a wealth of untapped talent out there that can only enrich what we see on our shelves.
The next day an announcement appeared in the Bookseller. The Bookseller! Which included this quote from the judges:
The judges said her novel was “cool and confident, excellently written, that feels very now” adding: “We wanted to be in the world of the novel as we read it, and felt this was a book doing something very exciting in the SFF space."
Eek! Somebody pinch me! I still can’t take it all in…