Literary agent Catherine Cho and poets Romalyn Ante and Rachel Long are on the shortlist for the 2021 Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, with Patrice Lawrence and debut author Danielle Jawando appearing on the shortlist for the inaugural Jhalak Children’s & Young Adult Prize. In a new initiative, bookshops across the country will be supporting the shortlisted titles.
Cho, agent at the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency, is nominated for the Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour for Inferno (Bloomsbury Circus), dubbed by judges as a "blistering account of the author's descent into post-natal psychosis". Meanwhile Romalyn Ante is shortlisted for poetry "tour-de-force" Antiemetic for Homesickness (Chatto Poetry) alongside fellow poet Rachel Long, highlighted for her "vivid, concise, poignant" My Darling From the Lions (Picador Poetry). Katy Massey appears for her "effortlessly assured" memoir Are We Home Yet? (Jacaranda) which explores her discover of her mother's role as a sex worker and her brother's death. Paul Mendez's nominated title Rainbow Milk (Dialogue) is described as "Balzac meets Jeanette Winterson, on acid" and is shortlisted alongside Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's The First Woman (Oneworld), called "deliciously rich with details, mystery, characters and setting".
Meanwhile multiple prize-winning author Lawrence is up for the Children’s & Young Adult Prize for Eight Pieces of Silva (Hachette Children’s), described by judges as "a richly textured and stylish young adult mystery”. Two Pushkin titles are also vying for the prize: When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, dubbed “a gorgeous tale that gets deeper and richer with each read”, and Catherine Johnson's Queen of Freedom, called "a vivid, heart thumping call to arms". A self-published book is also in the running: The GA Picture Alphabet by Nii Ayikwei Parkes & Avril Filomeno, described as "inventive and rich". Also featuring is A Fox Called Herbert by Margaret Sturton (Andersen Press), described as containing "a powerful emotional punch". Finally, Danielle Jawando's And the Stars Were Burning Brightly (Simon & Schuster UK) is the sole title from corporate publishers in this category, deemed “a stunning debut that will stay with you long after the end”.
Each of the shortlist titles was praised by organisers for ‘"courageously shining a light on aspects of human experience that often remain hidden". This year's judges include Yvonne Battle-Fenton, Louise Doughty and Peter Kalu for the Book of the Year Prize and Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Candy Gourlay for the inaugural Children’s and Young Adult Prize.
Sunny Singh (pictured above), director of the award, said: "There is much that feels precarious, fragile and all the more precious this spring, including any progress regarding equity in publishing. However, despite the challenges, this year’s Jhalak judges have selected—with much care and affection—two incredible shortlists that exemplify resilience, rebuilding, community and joy in literature. These are books that ask painful questions, are searingly honest in their confrontation with terrible realities, and courageously shine a light on aspects of human experience that often remains hidden. In doing so they offer much needed solace, inspiration and joy for our times and into the future."
In a new initiative supported by National Book Tokens, bookshops across the country will be supporting the shortlisted titles with in-store displays and promotion across websites and social media. In addition to online support from Waterstones, Foyles and Bookshop.org, in-store support from several Blackwell's branches and 100 independents, 12 indies will serve as Jhalak Prize Bookshop Champions, each celebrating one of the 12 shortlisted titles. They will host content including author Q&As and other special events. The participating indies are: Pages of Hackney (East London), Griffin Books (Wales), Mostly Books (Abingdon), Newham Bookshop (East London), October Books (Southampton), Lighthouse Books (Edinburgh), Round Table Books (South London), Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham), Storysmith (Bristol), The Hastings Bookshop (Sussex), La Biblioteka (Sheffield) and Children’s Bookshop (North London).
Alex de Berry, m.d. of National Book Tokens, said of the new initiative: “Bookshops have always had a vital role in connecting local readers with new books and especially new authors. Their ability to curate the best books for their communities creates a space for new voices that could otherwise get overlooked. We’re immensely proud to be able to support the connections between Jhalak and these communities.”
The winners will be announced at a virtual event in partnership with the British Library in central London on 25th May with each winner awarded £1,000 and a specially created work of art. The London-based artist and educator Amber Khokhar will create the trophy for the Book of the Year Prize with artist and illustrator Ruthine Burton creating the trophy for the new Children’s & Young Adult Prize.