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Jennifer N. Makumbi wins 2021 Jhalak Prize
Jhalak Prize Winner

Jennifer N. Makumbi wins 2021 Jhalak Prize


It has been announced that novelist and short story writer, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi has won Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour for her ‘magnetic’ and ‘extraordinary’ novel, The First Woman (Oneworld).

Alongside Makumbi, Young Adult writer, Patrice Lawrence, has also won the 2021 Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Prize for her ’richly textured’, ‘unapologetic celebration of teen culture’, Eight Pieces of Silva (Hachette Children’s).

The announcement was made this evening (Tuesday 25 May) at a virtual ceremony in partnership with the British Library with 12 Jhalak Prize Bookshop Champions introducing the shortlist titles before the winners’ announcement. Each writer was awarded £1,000 and a specially commissioned, unique trophy created by artists Amber Khokhar (Book of the Year) and Ruthine Burton (for Jhalak Children’s and Young Adult Prize).

Speaking about the winners, 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.’

The judges for the Jhalak Book of the Year for a Writer of Colour 2021 were Yvonne Battle-Fenton, Louise Doughty and Peter Kalu.

Commenting on Makumbi and The First Woman, judge Peter 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.’

Yvonne Battle-Felton said, ‘The First Woman is a beautifully woven, intricate novel weaving together family history, traditions, cultural norms, history and more. By the time you finish this book you are full: sustained by a well-told story full of vivid imagery, rich characters and lush language.’ Louise Doughty added ‘The First Woman is a fabulous, wide-ranging, complex, funny and sad coming-of-age story with one of the most engaging heroines in years . . . a triumph.’

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, stated that “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.’

Previous winners of the Jhalak Prize are: Johny Pitts for Afropean: Notes from Black Europe (Penguin) in 2020, Guy Gunaratne for In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press) in 2019, Reni Eddo-Lodge for Why Im No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury Circus) in 2018 and Jacob Ross for The Bone Readers in 2017.

Established in 2016, the Jhalak Prize is unique in its celebration of 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 in 2021 to increase awareness and promotion of the nominated titles among booksellers with bookshops across the country promoting the shortlisted titles in store and online. 12 independent bookshops served as Jhalak Prize Bookshop Champions with each supporting a title on the shortlist in a celebration of the essential role bookshops play within the fabric of their communities.

The Literandra team extends its warmest congratulations to the winners of both prizes and to everyone whose work was considered this year.

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