This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Costa Book Awards, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the UK. The awards aims to showcase and celebrate the best of literature by writers living in the UK and Ireland. Nominations are submitted by publishers into five categories, and we’re excited to share the winners of each category below.
Costa First Novel Award Winner
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.
At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.
Costa Novel Award Winner
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.
But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.
Unsettled Ground is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.
Costa Biography Award Winner
Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston
In February 1991, the media mogul and former MP Robert Maxwell made a triumphant entrance into Manhattan harbour aboard his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, to complete his purchase of the ailing New York Daily News. Crowds lined the quayside to watch his arrival, taxi drivers stopped their cabs to shake his hand and children asked for his autograph. But just ten months later, Maxwell disappeared from the same yacht off the Canary Islands, only to be found dead in the water soon afterward.
Maxwell was the embodiment of Britain’s post-war boom. Born an Orthodox Jew, he had escaped the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, fought in World War 2, and was decorated for his heroism with the Military Cross. He went on to become a Labour MP and an astonishingly successful businessman, owning a number of newspapers and publishing companies. But on his death, his empire fell apart, as long-hidden debts and unscrupulous dealings came to light. Within a few days, Maxwell was being reviled as the embodiment of greed and corruption. No one had ever fallen so far and so quickly.
What went so wrong? How did a war hero and model of society become reduced to a bloated, amoral wreck? In this gripping book, John Preston delivers the definitive account of Maxwell’s extraordinary rise and scandalous fall.
Costa Poetry Award Winner
The Kids by Hannah Lowe
Hannah Lowe taught for a decade in an inner-city London sixth form. At the heart of this book of compassionate and energetic sonnets are ‘The Kids’, her students, the teenagers she nurtured. But the poems go further, meeting her own child self as she comes of age in the riotous 80s and 90s, later bearing witness to her small son learning to negotiate contemporary London. Across these deeply felt poems, Lowe interrogates the acts of teaching and learning with empathy and humour. Social class, gender and race – and their fundamental intersection with education – are investigated with an ever critical and introspective eye.
The sonnet is re-energised, becoming a classroom, a memory box and even a mind itself as ‘The Kids’ learn and negotiate their own unknown futures. These boisterous and musical poems explore and explode the universal experience of what it is to be taught, and to teach, ultimately reaching out and speaking to the child in all of us.
The poems in the first section of the book draw on Hannah Lowe’s experiences as a teacher in the 2000s, but the scenarios are largely fictitious, as are the names of the students.
Costa Children’s Book Award Winner
The Crossing by Manjeet Mann
A trailblazing new novel about two teenagers from opposite worlds; The Crossing is a profound story of hope, grief, and the very real tragedies of the refugee crisis.
Natalie’s world is falling apart. She’s just lost her mum and her brother marches the streets of Dover full of hate and anger. Swimming is her only refuge.
Sammy has fled his home and family in Eritrea for the chance of a new life in Europe. Every step he takes on his journey is a step into an unknown and unwelcoming future.
A twist of fate brings them together and gives them both hope. But is hope enough to mend a broken world?
All the shortlisted titles
Check out all the shortlisted titles on our specially curated Costa Book Awards page. Our page also includes some hand-picked favourites from previous years. This is the perfect time to indulge in some award-winning fiction from the UK and Ireland.
What do you think of the winners of the 2021 Costa Book Awards? Which ones have you read? let us know in the comments below.