Nina Mingya Powles has been announced as the winner of the inaugural Nan Shepherd Prize for her submission Small Bodies of Water which explores growing up between two different cultures.
The literary award, run by Canongate Books, was formed to discover and nurture underrepresented voices in nature writing. Powles receives a publishing contract with Canongate and the book will be published in hardback in August 2021. She has already signed an agent in Kirsty McLachlan at David Godwin Associates.
The book’s synopsis reads: “Home is many people and places and languages, some separated by oceans. In experimental and lyrical prose that blends personal memories and dreams with nature writing, Small Bodies of Water examines a girlhood spent growing up between two cultures.
“From the rainforest waterfalls of Borneo to the wild coastline of New Zealand and the Ladies’ Pond in Hampstead Heath, this book explores migration, food, family and the bodies of water that separate and connect us.”
The idea for the prize came from Canongate’s rights manager Caroline Clarke and assistant editor Megan Reid. Launched in May, it included a partnership with the Nan Shepherd Estate and the University of Aberdeen. It was inspired by, and in memory of, writer Nan Shepherd, whose book The Living Mountain remained unpublished for almost 40 years before being published in 1977 and selling 90,000 copies.
Throughout the call-in period, Canongate offered online resources to help break down the publishing process, and discuss nature writing books by underrepresented writers. Each of the shortlisted and longlisted writers will receive feedback on their entries.
The winning entry was picked from a judging panel of Amy Liptrot, bestselling author of The Outrun (Canongate); Chitra Ramaswamy, award-winning journalist and author of Expecting; Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival; Jenny Brown, literary agent and chair of Bloody Scotland Festival and Francis Bickmore, publishing director at Canongate Books.
Powles said: “It has been so wonderful and enriching to get the opportunity to take part in the Nan Shepherd Prize journey alongside so many talented shortlisted writers. I’m grateful to the judges for believing in my work, and feel completely overwhelmed that they have selected my submission. I can’t wait to start working with Canongate to bring my book out into the world.”
McLachlan said of Powles: “Her writing is exquisite and I’m so excited that Canongate will be publishing such a talented writer.”
“Everyone who read Small Bodies of Water – from Canongate readers to the judges – loved Nina’s wonderful, lyrical and poetic writing,” Reid said. “This is a beautiful first book that really captures the spirit of The Living Mountain, and I’m so excited to have found such a brilliant winner of the first Nan Shepherd Prize in Nina.”
Powles is a writer, editor and publisher of mixed Malaysian-Chinese heritage. She is the author of the poetry pamphlets, her essays have been published in various literary journals and she was joint winner of the 2019 Landfall Essay Competition and the 2018 Women Poets’ Prize. She was also a finalist for the 2019 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, one of New Zealand’s richest poetry awards. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon 苦瓜, a small press that publishes limited-edition poetry pamphlets by Asian diaspora writers. Her pamphlet of essays on food is forthcoming from Birmingham-based indie The Emma Press. Powles was born in New Zealand, partly grew up in China and now lives in London where she works part-time at the National Poetry Library as a Library Assistant.