Byrne and Chok join Jhalak Prize judges

Byrne and Chok join Jhalak Prize judges

Authors Sunny Singh and Catherine Johnson are returning to the judging panel for the second Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year By a Writer of Colour, joined by fellow writers Noo Saro-Wiwa, Tanya Byrne and Vera Chok.

The prize, which was launched last year by Singh and Nikesh Shukla, exists to celebrate the achievements of British writers of colour.

The judging panel will be chaired by Singh, a London-based writer, whose most recent novel Hotel Arcadia was published by Quartet in 2015. Joining her on the panel will be fellow returning judge Johnson, who writes YA fiction as well as for Film and TV. Her most recent book The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo (Corgi) was shortlisted for the Bookseller's YA prize.

New to the judging panel this year is Byrne, a writer whose debut novel, Heart Shaped Bruise (Headline), was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger and the Branford Boase; Chok, a multi-disciplinary writer and performance maker and a co-author of The Good Immigrant (Unbound); and Saro-Wiwa, whose first book Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (Granta) was published in 2012, and named The Sunday Times Travel Book of the Year, 2012.

Singh said: “The first year of the Jhalak Prize has demonstrated its necessity. The conversations around the over the past year reveal that issues of inclusion in publishing are more pressing than ever. In the coming year, the Jhalak Prize will continue shining a light on the exclusions in the publishing industry. However, our focus – as always – will be to identify and celebrate great writers of colour in the UK.”

The inaugural prize was won by Jacob Ross for The Bone Readers (Peepal Tree), which set on the small Caribbean island of Camaho.

Shukla told The Bookseller: “We're excited about running the prize again this year as, for me, finding The Bone Readers, a book I hadn't come across on release, was a revelation, and the prize will run for as long as it's needed. And currently, it's needed.”

The prize was established following a 2015 report by an Arts Council-funded report called Spread the Word, which found the publishing industry’s poor commitment to diversity was putting it at risk of becoming culturally irrelevant, and following The Bookseller’s own investigations which found of the thousands of titles published in 2016 in the UK, only a small minority—fewer than 100—were by British authors of a non-white background.

Analysing the first year of the prize, Singh wrote in The Bookseller that smaller publishers are doing the “heavy lifting” when it comes to publishing “new, brave and unusual voices” from UK-based writers of colour. She also said the administration of the prize highlighted that "there is a ludicrously small number of books by writers of colour being published in the UK". It has also "reaffirmed that this bizarrely low number cannot be blamed on 'literary quality'. Instead, structural barriers are keeping a wider range of great books out of the hands of willing and interested readers".

Earlier this year, it emerged that Conservative MP Philip Davies had complained to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that the Jhalak Prize unlawfully discriminated against white people. However, the Commission told him it “supports and recommends” the prize.

The prize will be accepting entries published by a writer of colour in the UK in 2017 across all genres, including fiction, non-fiction, short story, graphic novels, poetry, children’s books and YA. The prize will also be open to self-published writers. Submissions are open until 30th November 2017.