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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
Poet city's 60,000 book prize
Dylan Thomas
It is hoped that writers from across the world will compete
One of the world's biggest literary prizes is being launched in Swansea this autumn.

At 60,000, the Swansea Dylan Thomas Prize will be awarded to the writer of the best book published in English, anywhere in the world.

It will be launched on 27 October, the anniversary of Thomas' birthday.

The new prize, awarded to anyone under 30, will match the prestigious Booker prize for fiction.

Writers of novels, poetry, plays and even travel books will be eligible for the cash.

Swansea can now find a niche for itself, not only in Wales but internationally
Peter Stead
Cultural critic Peter Stead, who is from Swansea, came up with the idea after a trip to Italy.

He said: "A few years ago I was in Tuscany and there's a town there called Viareggio.

"To brighten things up in the winter they introduced the Viareggio fictional prize - one of the biggest prizes in Italy.

"Organisers get the six short listed authors to come to the town to read their work and there's a big ceremony for the winner."

On his return to Swansea, Mr Stead said he thought a similar prize could be established there to cash in on Dylan Thomas' literary name.

"Swansea is where the Dylan Thomas legacy has been played for all it's worth and quite obviously, he is still a major icon," he added.

"So I said to people, why don't you use this Dylan Thomas link to establish a truly international literary prize."

Gwyneth Lewis
Gwyneth Lewis says the new prize will be a bonus for young writers

The prize, specifically for young writers, will be awarded every other year, alternating with Wales' Artes Mundi visual arts prize, awarded for the first time this spring.

The Artes Mundi contest offers a 40,000 first prize, the first on which was awarded in March to Xu Bin, for his experimental artwork is made from dust collected near Ground Zero in New York.

Mr Stead said the Dylan Thomas prize, like the Artes Mundi, could inspire young people in Wales.

"We want published books by novelists, poets, essayists, whoever," he said.

"There are many good writers coming out of the Caribbean, Africa, and so the challenge is there for Welsh writers.

What you want is to reward the most outrageous and creative, imaginative work whatever that is
Gwyneth Lewis

"What we're saying is, the English language is an international language. There are some wonderful things going on in the English language, let's see how good we are in Wales.

"Swansea can now find a niche for itself, not only in Wales but internationally," he added.

Some of the prize money will come from sponsorship, while the Welsh Assembly Government has given 15,000 towards establishing the award.

Culture Minister Alun Pugh said: "Much of Dylan Thomas's most inspired work was produced at an early age when he was living and working in Swansea, so it is fitting that this prize in his name will celebrate young literary talent that shows true promise."

The creation of the prize has been welcomed as a 'bonus' by prize-winning poet Gwyneth Lewis, particularly as it is going to the under-30s.

"It's not only the financial thing, but it's also the fact that you need encouragement," said Ms Lewis, who in 2001 won a 75,000 grant to research and sail to ports linked to her home city of Cardiff.

"Prizes are the showbiz end of the literary world," she said.

"If they can contribute to a general awareness of writing and literature there's a knock-on effect for people who don't ever win the prizes."

The poet won a competition to have her work featured on the new Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay.

She said she also welcomed the fact that the Swansea prize would be open to writers of all literature genres.

"What you want is to reward the most outrageous and creative, imaginative work whatever that is."

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