Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams have jointly won the 2022 Goldsmiths Prize for Diego Garcia, in a first for a major English-language literary fiction award. Ali Smith, one of the judges, described the co-written novel as “both a paean to connectivity and a profound study of the tragedy of human disconnect”. The announcement of the winners of the £10,000 prize, which runs in association with the New Statesman and celebrates “fiction that breaks the mould”, was made at a ceremony at the Social in central London on Thursday evening (10 November).
Soobramanien, who is British-Mauritian, and Williams, who is Scottish, met while studying creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Diego Garcia, which took them ten years to complete and was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in May, follows two writer friends in Edinburgh who are grappling with the colonial injustice of Britain’s seizure of the Chagos Islands.
Smith, who won the Goldsmiths Prize in 2014 with How to Be Both, said: “At its heart is an experiment with form that asks what fiction is, what art is for, and how, against the odds, to make visible, questionable and communal the structures, personal and political, of contemporary society, philosophy, lived history.”
The prize’s literary director and chair of judges, Tim Parnell, said: “By turns, funny, moving and angry, Diego Garcia is as compelling to read as it is intricately wrought. For Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams, collaboration is both method and politics. Against the dogmatism of the single-voiced fiction that informed the British government’s expulsion of the Chagossian people from their homeland, they respond not only with rigorous critique, but also with an understanding of the relationship between voice and power which shapes the very form of Diego Garcia.”
Diego Garcia is the first novel that Soobramanien, who lives in Brussels, and Williams, who lives in Cove, western Scotland, have written together. It follows Soobramanien’s Genie and Paul (2012) and Williams’s The Echo Chamber (2011).
In an interview in the New Statesman earlier this month, Soobramanien and Williams said: “‘Fiction’ is the word that British and US diplomats used to describe their conspiracy to dispossess the Chagossian people of their homeland – a US government memo proposed ‘the creation of a fiction’ that the islands were not inhabited by a community established over generations, while a British memo confirmed that not only should this fiction be created, it should be maintained. With our novel, we wanted to refute this idea of fiction as a strategy for manipulation, coercion and dispossession, and to reclaim it as a space to imagine other possibilities.”
Alongside Smith and Parnell, the judging panel comprised Natasha Brown, whose novel Assembly was shortlisted for the prize in 2021, and Tom Gatti, executive editor of culture at the New Statesman.
Former winners of the prize, now in its tenth year, include Isabel Waidner, Eimear McBride and Lucy Ellmann. The other books shortlisted for this year’s prize were Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi, Seven Steeples by Sara Baume, Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer, Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi and there are more things by Yara Rodrigues Fowler.
Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams will be in conversation with Tom Gatti at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 19 November.
The shortlisted books are available to purchase from Bookshop.org here.