Johny Pitts wins 2020 Jhalak Prize

Johny Pitts wins 2020 Jhalak Prize

Johny Pitts—a writer, photographer and broadcast journalist—has won the £1,000 Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, for Afropean: Notes from Black Europe (Allen Lane).

The book was unanimously selected as the winner by the judging panel comprising poet, activist and writer Roy McFarlane, writer, journalist and critic Anita Sethi, novelist and screenwriter Nikesh Shukla, and novelist Kerry Young.

Shukla, co-founder of the Jhalak Prize, commended this “open-armed book” for collecting untold stories that might otherwise have been lost, stating that “it embodies exactly the reasons we set up the prize in the first place". Sethi said that Afropean couldn’t be more timely as it “speaks to the shifting moment of Europe". Young praised Afropean as “an honest and open-hearted book of enormous scope and intellectual integrity” and noted that “it’s a work of non-fiction that reads like a novel”. McFarlane qualified Afropean as “one of those books that grab you from the moment you start reading it” and that “everybody has to pick up this book and read it".

The award ceremony, which took place online on 26th May, saw author professor Sunny Singh, also a co-founder of the prize and its director, describe the importance of books at this time. The virus and lockdown, she said, "emphasised the need for telling more of our stories, all of our stories, so that we may remember, learn and re-learn, hope courage and resilience".

Pitts was presented with a trophy, a unique sculpture titled "Rebirth" especially created this year for the Jhalak Prize by the artist Neda Koochakian Fard.

Pitts, who was born in Sheffield, has received various awards for his work exploring African-European identity, including a Decibel Penguin Prize and an ENAR (European Network Against Racism) award. He is the founder and curator of the online journal Afropean.com which examines the interplay of black and European cultures.

The shortlist also featured The Black Flamingo, Dean Atta (Hodder Children’s); Remembered, Yvonne Battle-Felton (Dialogue); Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams (Trapeze/Orion); Fleche, Mary Jean Chan (Faber); Suncatcher, Romesh Gunesekera (Bloomsbury).

Now in its fourth year, the Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour is an annual award that seeks to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME writers.