Mumbai-Based Journalist and Playwright Wins $100,000 Nine Dots Prize for Innovative Thinking

Entries were judged anonymously by leading international thinkers including  Anne Applebaum, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Ira Katznelson and David Runciman

Credit: Ritam Banerjee

40-year-old Annie Zaidi, a freelance writer whose work includes reportage, essays, short stories, poetry and plays, has been announced as the winner of the US$100,000 Nine Dots Prize 2019/2020.

Now in its second cycle, the Prize – which exists to encourage innovative thinking that addresses contemporary issues – challenged entrants to answer the question ‘Is there still no place like home?’ in a 3,000-word essay. The winner of each cycle is supported to develop their response into a full-length book which is published by Cambridge University Press and given the opportunity to spend a term at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge University.

Hundreds of responses were submitted by entrants all over the world. They were judged anonymously by the Prize’s eleven-strong Board of leading academics, journalists and thinkers, to ensure the Prize was awarded on the strength and originality of the response alone.

Zaidi’s entry, ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’, combines memoir and reportage to explore concepts of home and belonging rooted in her experience of contemporary life in India, where migration – within the country, especially from villages to cities – is high. The proposed book will answer the central question through examining how a citizen’s sense of ‘home’ might collapse, or be recovered. Themes it will address include:

  • The politics and economics of death in India, and how the physical performance of last rites for the dead can lead to a sense of dislocation and the unmooring of living citizens
  • How industrial townships are created on the back of a series of dislocations, and what this means for citizens’ relationships to the land
  • The crossing of caste and religious lines in marriage, and the abuse of political power to violently disrupt or prevent the mixing of bloodlines
  • The Partition of India as a great cultural and emotional sundering, ultimately triggering an aggressive nationalism that seeks a negative self-definition rather than a positive one
  • The struggle to belong to a city when it changes in all recognisable forms, even down to its name, and when it is stripped of all the original springs of cultural affinity

Zaidi began her career as a reporter with stints at leading newspapers and magazines including Mid-Day and Frontline. She has published both fiction and non-fiction: Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales is a collection of essays shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in 2010, and Love Stories # 1 to 14 is a collection of short fiction published in 2012. In 2015, she published an anthology called Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing. Elle magazine named Zaidi as one of the emerging South Asian writers “whose writing… will enrich South Asian literature”. She currently works as a freelance writer, working on fiction, scripts and columns for magazines and newspapers.

Zaidi says: “What really appealed to me about the Nine Dots Prize was the way it encourages entrants to think without borders or restraints. My work has often crossed over genres, traversing between memoir and journalism, and this timely but wide-open question encouraged us to approach it with methods that were equally far-ranging. I had been working towards a similarly themed project for a while but didn’t have the financial, or even mental, bandwidth to do it justice. The Prize will allow me to dedicate time to the examination of this question, which is of critical importance in the modern world – and it will help fund the necessary research trips, which, as a freelancer, is something I appreciate hugely. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity and am looking forward to the challenges and excitement of the year ahead.”

The Nine Dots Prize Board is chaired by Professor Simon Goldhill, Professor in Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.

Professor Goldhill says: “The anonymous judging process is crucial to the Nine Dots Prize’s mission to discover new ways of tackling contemporary issues, whether they come from established thinkers or new voices. The fact that our second winner is so different from our first is testament to the success of this method. In James Williams we found a technologist and philosopher with something urgent to say about how our will is being manipulated by the tools we increasingly rely on. In Annie Zaidi we have found a powerful and compelling voice with a unique insight into what home means for citizens of the world today. We are very excited to see how Annie’s work will develop over the coming year and hope that it will help further current conversations around the concept of belonging worldwide.”

The inaugural Nine Dots Prize posed the question ‘Are digital technologies making politics impossible?’ and was won by former Google employee turned Oxford philosopher, James Williams. The resulting book, Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, was published in May 2018 to critical acclaim (‘A landmark book’ – the Observer; ‘Switch off your smartphone, slouch in a comfy chair, and pay your full, undivided, attention to this short, absorbing, and deeply disturbing book’ – Financial Times).

Annie Zaidi’s book, based on her Nine Dots Prize-winning essay ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’, will be published by Cambridge University Press in May 2020 and made available in an open access format.

Desmond Elliott Prize shortlist explores loss of innocence and the conflict between self and society

“From a very strong longlist we’ve arrived at a shortlist of three really marvelous novels — each of them an unforgettable picture of a place and a society, peopled by vividly interesting characters.  It’s a pleasure to greet three such gifted, and contrasting, first novelists.”- Chair of judges and author, Alan Hollinghurst

The three novels shortlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliott Prize, the “UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (Daily Telegraph), have been announced today (Friday 10th May 2019). Golden Child by Claire Adam, Hold by Michael Donkor and Devoured by Anna Mackmin are all in the running to win the £10,000 Prize and be named the year’s best debut novel.

All three titles explore the theme of how innocence can be lost following the realisation that long-accepted beliefs about the world might not be true.

Claire Adam introduces readers to the colourful, vibrant yet dangerous world of her childhood, Trinidad, in Golden Child. The novel tells the story of a family with twin boys, Peter and Paul, with differing personalities. When the ‘misfit’ twin, Peter, is abducted, their father, Clyde, must race to save the son that he has never really understood. About the novel, Alan Hollinghurst said: “Golden Child is a superbly controlled narrative of a family cracking under unbearable pressures, and a remarkable study in violence, always latent, sometimes horrifically real. It combines the tang of harsh reality with the luminous strangeness of a dream. ”

In Hold, author Michael Donkor explores the conflict between a person’s heritage and the culture in which they grew up taking inspiration from his own childhood experiences of being a London born Ghanaian. When Londoner Amma starts rebelling against her parents, the disciplined ‘house-girl’ Belinda is summoned from Ghana to be a good influence on her. Hollinghurst said:Hold is a captivating study of cultural displacement and generational change, seen, remarkably, entirely through female eyes. In the house-girl Belinda, Michael Donkor has created a memorably funny and poignant portrait of a young woman making sense of a life she is not in charge of.”

Rounding off the shortlist is Devoured by Anna Mackmin, a vivid semi-autobiographical tale of a girl growing up in a commune in Norfolk. The central character, Nearly Thirteen, offers the reader a chance to experience a world that exists on the fringes of society through the eyes of a child with the innocence not to question the unusual behaviour she encounters. The novel comes from Norwich-based independent publisher Propolis, founded by Henry Layte who co-published the 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize-winning A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride. Alan Hollinghurst said:  “An exuberant and technically inventive debut from Anna Mackmin. She shows us the variously pompous, randy and self-deluded adults in a 1970s Norfolk commune through the eyes of drolly observant child on the cusp of puberty.  Devoured is absorbing, unnerving and extremely funny.”

The Chairman of the Prize’s trustees, Dallas Manderson said: “The purpose of the Desmond Elliott Prize is to support debut novelists, to raise their profile and provide them with a financial platform from which they can dive into their next novel. It is no easy task for our judges to whittle the longlist down from ten to a shortlist of three and I know every year there is a fierce debate in the judging room. It is with great joy that we present the Desmond Elliott Prize shortlist for 2019.”

The Desmond Elliott Prize has a track record of spotting exceptionally talented novelists at the very beginning of their careers. Last year, the Prize was awarded to Preti Taneja for her debut novel, We That Are Young. Since winning the Desmond Elliott Prize, We That Are Young has been published in the US, Canada, India, Germany and France. The rights have also been acquired for a television adaptation. Other past-winners include Francis Spufford, Claire Fuller and Eimear McBride.

Alan Hollinghurst is joined on the judging panel by the literary editor of The Times, Robbie Millen, and managing director of the Booksellers Association, Meryl Halls. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 19th June, where they will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.

For further information please contact Emily Souders at Riot Communications on 

020 3174 0118 /

Associate Director Caitlin Allen shares her thoughts on the launch of Moominvalley

As animated TV series Moominvalley came to living rooms across the UK over the Easter weekend, we share how we shaped and executed a B2B and consumer communications strategy for our client Gutsy Animations from concept to transmission…

We’d been working with Moomin Characters for about a year when Marika Makaroff, CEO of Gutsy Animations, got in touch in spring 2017 to ask for our support with a crowdfunding campaign for a new television adaptation of the Moomin stories.

We immediately fell in love with Marika’s vision for a new adaption that was totally loyal to the spirit and values of Tove Jansson’s creation and portrayed the full range of emotions – good and bad – explored within her Moomin stories. We worked with Gutsy and their crowdfunding consultant to secure widespread media coverage and mobilise the Moomin fanbase worldwide, resulting in the campaign securing 127% funding and reaching a total of US$253,230.

On the back of that success, we were thrilled to be appointed by Gutsy to handle consumer and B2B PR throughout the development and production process, helping to attract the attention and interest of buyers around the world.

Our remit included making all major announcements about the production, including our UK voice cast announcement which saw Moominvalley being discussed by presenters on the BBC Breakfast sofa and by Nick Grimshaw on the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show as well as news stories on Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Stylist, NME and many more.

At MIPCOM 2017 we organised a beach party with from Rosamund Pike, who voices Moominmamma, to guarantee that buyers would take time out of their hectic schedules to come to our event. We also took the opportunity to arrange a full-page interview with Rosamund for the MIPCOM Daily Paper, ensuring that Gutsy and Moominvalley had high visibility during the market.

We announced various acquisitions, working with broadcast partners worldwide including Yle in Finland, Sky in the UK and NHK in Japan. Further collaborators came on board in the form of Columbia Records, part of Sony Music, who we announced would be partnering with Moominvalley on the soundtrack with Columbia artists including Tom Odell and First Aid Kit writing brand-new feature songs for each episode of the first series.

In the run-up to the animation airing, we identified what needed to be done to supplement the work of Sky’s consumer PR agency in the UK and placed a couple of major features looking at the new animation from a literary point of view. Tove’s original Moomin stories are at the heart of everything that the Moomin brand does so it was important to make sure they featured alongside interviews with the starry cast and team. We invited journalists out to the worldwide premiere in Helsinki, where they were able interview Tove’s niece Sophia plus Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, the lead writers on the series, for spreads on the source material in the Guardian and The i Paper. We also collaborated on some trade media opportunities, telling the story of the production from Gutsy’s perspective with written pieces from Marika and Academy Award-winning director Steve Box.

At the Helsinki premiere, we hosted four members of the UK cast: Rosamund Pike (Moominmamma), Taron Egerton (Moomintroll), Jennifer Saunders (Mymble) and Edvin Endre (Snufkin). Together with Gutsy and Sky’s team we organised an afternoon of international media interviews for the voice talent plus key members from the production team. Later that day we hosted the UK talent at the premiere itself, which included a red carpet moment with photo opps and further interviews, and were the first port of call for talent during their visit to Finland.

Seeing something turn from creative vision into reality is always a magical experience, but it’s even more wonderful when the timing is so right. The world needs the Moomins – and the lessons they can teach us about tolerance, respect and welcoming difference – more than ever right now. It’s been a joy to have played a role in this project right from the beginning. Marika, Steve and the incredibly talented team at Gutsy have done a wonderful job of honouring Tove’s work, presenting it for a contemporary audience in a fresh and cutting-edge way.

Caitlin Allen, associate director

Photo credit: Jussi Nahkuri and Ilmari Fabritius