NEW WELSH WRITING AWARDS 2021: Winner Announced

The Future of Welsh Literature 

Jasmine Donahaye has won the 2021 New Welsh Writing Awards: Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting with her memoir Reading the Signs.

A collection of five interlinked essays “exploring the constraints and boundaries placed upon women’s experience of the natural world”, Reading the Signs is set in the author’s “milltir sgwâr” (a widely used Welsh expression meaning ‘square mile’), but also alludes to landscapes in Scotland and England. The essays “touch on the lasting legacy of domestic violence, the ways in which female identity is diminished in natural history, and the social and literary expectations that direct and limit how women may experience wildness.”

Based in the village of Lledrod in rural Ceredigion, Donahaye – Professor of Creative Writing at Swansea University – wins a £1,000 advance against a general publication under the New Welsh Rarebyte imprint, a positive critique by leading literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown and a year-long subscription to New Welsh Review.

She has previously published narrative non-fiction, fiction, poetry and cultural criticism. Her memoir Losing Israel (2015) won the non-fiction category of the Wales Book of the Year, and her story ‘Theft’ was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize in 2016. Her books include a biography of Lily Tobias, The Greatest Need (2015); a cultural study, Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine (2012); and two poetry collections: Self-Portrait as Ruth (2009), which was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year, and Misappropriations (2006), which was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Her work has appeared in various literary journals, The New York Times and The Guardian. She was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales in 2017.


FIRST PLACE: Jasmine Donahaye (Lledrod, Wales) Reading the Signs

SECOND PLACE: João Morais (Cardiff, Wales) Festival of the Ghost

THIRD PLACE: Jack Harris (London, England) The Rebeccas

Judge and New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies commented:

Reading the Signs is funny, tragic, diverse, honest and angry, and has a proud sense of the writer’s own place within the exclusive world of nature literature. It treads that zipwire across a woman’s inner and outer landscapes and flips the bird at those men who have mocked women writers in this field. This non-fiction blended memoir has heaps of hinterland, research and analysis, but presents trends in nature writing in an accessible way, tracing in particular how women’s voices in the field have been excluded.

Reading the Signs makes the feminist case against self-annihilation in nature and in nature writing (or anywhere else), and plots, in very personal ways, how women experience self-erasure every day. The death of a much-loved sister frames the piece, pushing it into a highly compelling story. And it is the sisters’ mutual love of birds, together with tightly observed explorations of body and flesh and superlatively written scenes championing neglected landscapes such as Cors Caron near Tregaron, which coalesce to create a body of writing that is rich and highly rewarding. Here is an unflinching gaze into shame, disgust, curiosity, domestic abuse, love, empathy and loss.”

Image (top of page) © 2021 New Welsh Review

Categories: Literary Awards

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9 replies

  1. This sounds very powerful. I don’t often read essay collections but this is very appealing with its focus on the natural world.

  2. What an interesting sounding collection. I’m also interested in her book Whose People? I hadn’t heard of her before, thanks Paula!

  3. This sounds like it would fit with my climate crisis/natural world reading project. I will have a look for it: thank you!


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