Novelist and short story writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (pictured, top) and YA writer Patrice Lawrence (pictured, below right) have won the 2021 Jhalak Prize awards.
Makumbi has been awarded the fifth Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour for her "magnetic and extraordinary" novel The First Woman (Oneworld). Lawrence scooped the inaugural Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Prize for her "unapologetic celebration of teen culture" Eight Pieces of Silva (Hachette Children’s).
The announcement was made on 25th May at a virtual ceremony in partnership with the British Library, featuring 12 Jhalak Prize "bookshop champions" introducing the shortlisted titles before the winners’ announcement. Each writer was awarded £1,000 and a specially commissioned trophy created by artists Amber Khokhar and Ruthine Burton.
Prize director Sunny Singh said: "The 2021 Jhalak judges have picked two books that are towering literary achievements, full of authorly courage, stylistic panache and great heart. Patrice Lawrence’s Eight Pieces of Silva and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s The First Woman are very different books in terms of readers they address, the styles they develop and themes they explore but they both confront terrible realities, ask painful questions and experiment playfully with form, style and language. Most of all, they both find strength, compassion and resilience in places and times where these seem entirely impossible. In their complex, nuanced explorations of the human experience, Lawrence and Makumbi both find hope, joy and reasons to cherish and celebrate our shared humanity."
Established in 2016, the prize celebrates exceptional work across genre and format, with fiction, non-fiction, short stories, graphic novels, poetry and self-published writers, eligible. A new partnership with National Book Tokens was announced this year to increase awareness and promotion of the nominated titles among booksellers with bookshops across the country promoting the shortlisted titles instore and online.
The judges for the Jhalak Book of the Year for a Writer of Colour 2021 were Yvonne Battle-Fenton, Louise Doughty and Peter Kalu.
Kalu said: “In Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi we have a giant of literature living among us. The First Woman has magnetic, tender, vindictive, generous oh-so-human characters whose journeys through the novel moved me — this block of stone known as me — to tears. Makumbi is a supremely gifted writer and The First Woman an astonishing accomplishment.”
Makumbi commented: “Winning the Jhalak Prize, which recognises the best work by writers of colour in Britain, is a marvellous stamp of approval. I am grateful to the judges, to the team at Oneworld, but most of all, to Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla and Media Diversified for creating this award.”
The judges for the Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Prize were Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Candy Gourlay. Hargrave said: “Amongst a constellation of extraordinary stories, each of which made their mark, Eight Pieces of Silva became our navigating star. We loved it for its unapologetic celebration of teen culture. A mystery, a drama and a comedy, it feels like a book that is entirely of the moment, but with qualities that will make it endure. It’s the perfect inaugural winner of the Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Award.”
Lawrence said: “I am so surprised, joyful and downright grateful that Eight Pieces of Silva has been awarded the inaugural Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Prize amongst such wonderful competition. I can't stop smiling knowing that a book starring a Black, working-class, proudly out lesbian (and K-Pop fan) connects with so many people.”
Previous winners of the Jhalak Prize include Johny Pitts for Afropean: Notes from Black Europe (Penguin) in 2020, Guy Gunaratne for In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press) in 2019 and Reni Eddo-Lodge for Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury Circus) in 2018.
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