Jhalak Prize Longlist 2021

The Jhalak Prize was first awarded in March 2017, it is an award to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME (British Black, Asian and minority ethnic) writers.

It was started in 2016 by authors Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla and Media Diversified and winner of the award takes home a prize of £1000. A “sister” award, the Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize was founded in 2020, but here I will concentrate on the main award. If you are interested in the Children’s and YA Longlist you can find a list of the titles here.

The Prize includes, but is not limited to, fiction, non-fiction, short stories, graphic novels, and poetry, written by writers of colour and published in the UK. Unlike a number of awards it is open to self-published writers.

Winners to date have been:

2017 – ‘The Bone Readers’ by Jacob Ross

2018 – ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge

2019 – ‘In Our Mad and Furious City’ by Guy Gunaratne

2020 – ‘Afropean’ by Johny Pitts

The longlist for the 2021 Prize was announced earlier today. The twelve titles are as follows, blurbs taken from the publisher’s websites):

Romalyn Ante – Antiemetic for Homesickness (Chatto & Windus)

The poems in Romalyn Ante’s luminous debut build a bridge between two worlds: journeying from the country ‘na nagluwal sa ‘yo’ – that gave birth to you – to a new life in the United Kingdom.

Steeped in the richness of Filipino folklore, and studded with Tagalog, these poems speak of the ache of assimilation and the complexities of belonging, telling the stories of generations of migrants who find exile through employment – through the voices of the mothers who leave and the children who are left behind.

With dazzling formal dexterity and emotional resonance, this expansive debut offers a unique perspective on family, colonialism, homeland and heritage: from the countries we carry with us, to the places we call home.

Catherine Cho – Inferno (Bloomsbury Circus)

My psychosis, for all its destruction and wrath, was a love story.

When Catherine left London for the US with her husband James, to introduce her family to their newborn son, she could not have envisaged how that trip would end. Catherine would find herself in an involuntary psych ward in New Jersey, separated from her husband and child, unable to understand who she was, and how she had got there.

It’s difficult to know where the story of psychosis begins. Was it the moment I met my son? Or was it decided in the before, something rooted deeper in my fate, generations ago?

In an attempt to hold on to her sense of self, Catherine had to reconstruct her life, from her early childhood, to a harrowing previous relationship, and her eventual marriage to James.

The result is a powerful exploration of psychosis and motherhood, at once intensely personal, yet holding within it a universal experience – of how we love, live and understand ourselves in relation to each other.

Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi – [re: desire] (Burning Eye Books)

Afshan D’souza-Lodhi’s debut poetry collection [re:desire] explores the yearning to love, be loved and belong from a desi (South Asian) perspective. Her work sits on the intersections of flash fiction, poetry and script, echoing the hybridity of the worlds that many young British desis find themselves occupying. Drawing on the poetry of many different languages and cultures – Urdu, English, Konkani, Islamic and Christian – this collection explores how we access our traditions from a distance.

[re:desire] draws upon literary traditions and cultural references to flip the male gaze common in mushairas on its head. Common themes for mushairas are love, God and being drunk or intoxicated by love and God – but is usually seen from a male perspective. The pieces in re: desire are mainly told from a female perspective, and question the gender given to particular acts, objects and ideas.

Caleb Femi – Poor (Penguin)

What is it like to grow up in a place where the same police officer who told your primary school class they were special stops and searches you at 13 because ‘you fit the description of a man’ – and where it is possible to walk two and a half miles through an estate of 1,444 homes without ever touching the ground?

In Poor, Caleb Femi combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. He contemplates the ways in which they are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage, writes a coded, near-mythical history of the personalities and sagas of his South London youth, and pays tribute to the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives.

Above all, this is a tribute to the world that shaped a poet, and to the people forging difficult lives and finding magic within it. As Femi writes in one of the final poems of this book: ‘I have never loved anything the way I love the endz.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Mercies (Picador)

On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen, including her father and brother, are lost to the waves, the menfolk of Vardø wiped out in an instant.

Now the women must fend for themselves.

Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilized world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of Vardø to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty and terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and a love that may prove as dangerous as it is powerful.

Tammye Huf – A More Perfect Union (Myriad Editions)

This extraordinary debut novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in Black women’s writing. It is an interracial love story set in pre-Civil War America, and inspired by the true story of author Tammye’s great-great grandparents. Along with love and race, it touches on themes of identity, sacrifice, belonging and survival.

Henry O’Toole sails to America in 1848 to escape poverty and famine in Ireland, only to find anti-Irish prejudice awaiting him. Determined never to starve again, he changes his surname to Taylor and heads south to the state of Virginia, seeking work as a travelling blacksmith on the prosperous plantations.

Sarah is a slave. Torn from her family and sold to Jubilee Plantation, she must navigate the hierarchy of her fellow slaves, the whims of her white masters, and now the attentions of the mysterious blacksmith.

Fellow slave Maple oversees the big house with bitterness and bile, and knows that a white man’s attention spells trouble. Given to her half-sister as a wedding present by their white father, she is set on being reunited with her husband and daughter, at any cost.

Research included contemporary slave narratives (printed to further the abolitionist cause), digitally remastered audio recordings of former slaves, legislation on the question of slavery in the mid-19th century, historical texts on the Irish famine and first-hand accounts of English visitors to Ireland at the time, the writings of Charles Trevelyan (responsible for famine relief under Peel and Russell), historical texts on the antebellum South, and visits to the historically preserved Jubilee Plantation in Virginia on which the novel’s plantation is based.

Rachel Long – My Darling From the Lions (Picador)

Rachel Long’s much-anticipated debut collection of poems, My Darling from the Lions, announces the arrival of a thrilling new presence in poetry.

Each poem has a vivid story to tell – of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening – stories that are, by turn, emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous.

Long reveals herself as a razor-sharp and original voice on the issues of sexual politics and cultural inheritance that polarize our current moment. But it’s her refreshing commitment to the power of the individual poem that will leave the reader turning each page in eager anticipation: here is an immediate, wide-awake poetry that entertains royally, without sacrificing a note of its urgency or remarkable skill.

Deirdre Mask – The Address Book (Profile Books)

Starting with a simple question, ‘what do street addresses do?’, Deirdre Mask travels the world and back in time to work out how we describe where we live and what that says about us. From the chronological numbers of Tokyo to the naming of Bobby Sands Street in Iran, she explores how our address – or lack of one – expresses our politics, culture and technology. It affects our health and wealth, and it can even affect the working of our brains.

From Ancient Rome to Kolkata today, from cholera epidemics to tax hungry monarchs, Mask discovers the different ways street names are created, celebrated, and in some cases, banned. Filled with fascinating people and histories, this incisive, entertaining book shows how addresses are about identity, class and race. But most of all they are about power: the power to name, to hide, to decide who counts, who doesn’t, and why.

Katy Massey – Are We Home Yet (jacaranda)

Spanning the years from 1935 to 2010, Are We Home Yet? is the moving and funny story of a girl and her mother.

As a girl, Katy accidentally discovers her mother is earning money as a sex worker at the family home, rupturing their bond. As an adult, Katy contends with grief and mental health challenges before she and her mother attempt to heal their relationship. From Canada, to Leeds and Jamaica, and exploring shame, immigration and class, the pair share their stories but struggle to understand each other’s choices in a fast-changing world.

By revealing their truths, can these two strong women call a truce on their hostilities and overcome the oppressive ghosts of the past?

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi – The First Woman (Oneworld Publications)

For one young girl, discovering what it means to become a woman in a family, a community and a country determined to silence her will take all the courage she has.

Growing up in a small Ugandan village, Kirabo is surrounded by powerful women. Her grandmother, her aunts, her friends and cousins are all desperate for her to conform, but Kirabo is inquisitive, headstrong and determined. Up until now, she has been perfectly content with her life at the heart of this prosperous extended family, but as she enters her teenage years, she begins to feel the absence of the mother she has never known. The First Woman follows Kirabo on her journey to becoming a young woman and finding her place in the world, as her country is transformed by the bloody dictatorship of Idi Amin.

Jennifer Makumbi has written a sweeping tale of longing and rebellion, at once epic and deeply personal, steeped in an intoxicating mix of ancient Ugandan folklore and modern feminism, that will linger in the memory long after the final page.

Paul Mendez  – Rainbow Milk (Dialogue Books)

Rainbow Milk is an intersectional coming-of-age story, following nineteen-year-old Jesse McCarthy as he grapples with his racial and sexual identities against the backdrop of a Jehovah’s Witness upbringing and the legacies of the Windrush generation.

In the Black Country in the 1950s, ex-boxer Norman Alonso is a determined and humble Jamaican who has moved to Britain with his wife to secure a brighter future for themselves and their children. Blighted with unexpected illness and racism, Norman and his family are resilient in the face of such hostilities, but are all too aware that they will need more than just hope to survive.

At the turn of the millennium, Jesse seeks a fresh start in London – escaping from a broken immediate family, a repressive religious community and the desolate, disempowered Black Country – but finds himself at a loss for a new centre of gravity, and turns to sex work to create new notions of love, fatherhood and spirituality.

Rainbow Milk is a bold exploration of race, class, sexuality, freedom and religion across generations, time and cultures. Paul Mendez is a fervent new writer with an original and urgent voice.

Stephanie Scott – What’s Left of Me Is Yours (W&N)

In Japan, a covert industry has grown up around the wakaresaseya (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings.

When Sato hires Kaitaro, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with his wife, Rina, he assumes it will be an easy case. But Sato has never truly understood Rina or her desires and Kaitaro’s job is to do exactly that – until he does it too well.

While Rina remains ignorant of the circumstances that brought them together, she and Kaitaro fall in a desperate, singular love, setting in motion a series of violent acts that will forever haunt her daughter Sumiko’s life.

Told from alternating points of view and across the breathtaking landscapes of Japan, What’s Left of Me Is Yours explores the thorny psychological and moral grounds of the actions we take in the name of love, asking where we draw the line between passion and possession.

​Judges for the 2021 prize are Yvonne Battle-Felton, an American writer living in the UK and author of ‘Remembered’, longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2019) and shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize (2020), Louise Doughty, author of nine novels including the ‘Whatever You Love’ nominated for the Orange and Costa Novel Awards, and Peter Kalu, short story, plays, poetry, creative non-fiction and essay writer.

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