Costa Book of the Year winner hails young people as ‘agents of change’

Winning work The Kids was written by poet and university lecturer Hannah Lowe.

Former London teacher Hannah Lowe has won the 2021 Costa Book of the Year.

By Alex Green, PA Senior Entertainment Reporter

Former London teacher Hannah Lowe, who has won the 2021 Costa Book of the Year, has said she hopes her collection of sonnets champions young people as “agents of change”.

The Kids draws on a decade of teaching at an inner-city London sixth form as well as her own coming of age during the 80s and 90s.

Tackling themes such as learning, growing up and parenthood, it concludes with poems about her young son learning to navigate modern London.

The Kids by Hannah Lowe (Costa Book Of The Year/PA)

Speaking after being announced as the winner, she told the PA news agency: “In some ways the book is a love song to youth. It is definitely a book that was written because I am getting older, so I am remembering my own youth.

“I do think people, particularly the kind of kids I was teaching, working class kids in London – young people are having a bloody hard time at the minute in all kinds of ways, not least because of what the last two years has done to them in terms of their ability to socialise and connect with each other.

“For that reason, the book is meant to champion young people as agents of change – and change is definitely what we need at the minute.”

Lowe said she was especially pleased a work of poetry had triumphed over prose.

“To win over some brilliant novels is really something and I feel very honoured,” she said.

Claire Fuller’s book Unsettled Ground (Costa Book Of The Year/PA)

“I am struggling for words slightly but it does mean something because poetry has such a reputation for being either elitist or difficult.

“And for a book of poetry to win this prize – a prize centred around accessibility and finding a broad readership – it really means a lot.”

BBC News broadcaster Reeta Chakrabarti, chairman of the judging panel, said: “After a long and passionate discussion that reflected the quality and complexity of all five books, one winner emerged.

“Hannah Lowe’s The Kids is a book to fall in love with – it’s joyous, it’s warm and it’s completely universal. It’s crafted and skilful but also accessible.

“Words from the judges were ‘insightful’, ‘empathetic’, ‘generous’, ‘funny’, ‘compassionate’, ‘uplifting’. You will love it.”

The announcement was made on Tuesday at an awards ceremony in London hosted by presenter and broadcaster Penny Smith.

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Lowe beat the bookmakers’ favourite, bestselling novelist Claire Fuller’s fourth book Unsettled Ground, to win the overall prize of £30,000.

The other three category winners in the running were former newspaper editor John Preston for Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, a biography of the media mogul; British-Ghanaian short story writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson for his first novel, Open Water; and actor and children’s author Manjeet Mann, for her second work of young adult fiction, The Crossing.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the awards, each author also receives a certificate featuring traditional hand-printed elements using a vintage press merged with digital production techniques.

Jill McDonald, chief executive of Costa Coffee, said: “On behalf of all of us at Costa Coffee, many congratulations to Hannah Lowe for winning the 2021 Costa Book of the Year in this, the awards’ milestone anniversary year.”

The ceremony also saw LE Yates named winner of the 2021 Costa Short Story Award

The London-based writer and lecturer won the public vote and £3,500 for her story, Sunblock.

The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Trinidadian-born British writer Monique Roffey was named Book of the Year for 2020.

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